Our staff, our stories
You might call Patrice Brown, PA(ASCP), a “newbie,” considering she joined Mayo Clinic's Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology as a pathologists’ assistant only two years ago, in 2018. This also means that right about when she was getting used to a new city (Rochester), after moving here from Hampton, Virginia, and a new job, the COVID-19 crisis hit. Fortunately, just before the hammer came down, Brown was able to squeeze in her dream trip to Southeast Asia.
“I left on January 25, 2020, flying to Thailand and then traveling to Cambodia and Vietnam for about two weeks,” says Brown, who specializes in surgical pathology and autopsies. “I had connecting flights in Japan coming and going, and even back then practically everyone in the airport was wearing a mask. I felt like the odd one out because I wasn’t wearing a mask yet. They also had a quarantine area, where they were screening people based on their previous destinations, and they were taking temperatures.”
Seeing all the precautions Japan was already taking made Brown wonder if traveling at that time was the right choice. But now, in hindsight, she’s so glad she went. “The people were so friendly in all three countries, the food was amazing, and there was so much culture and history to appreciate on that trip.”
Brown is originally from Glen Allen, Virginia, then lived in Hampton. She remembers her childhood fondly, surrounded by a diversity of friends. “I enjoyed interacting with friends of different cultures, gaining an appreciation early in life for different cuisine and cultural customs,” she recalls. “When I was younger, one of my best friends was Vietnamese, and I would hang out with her a lot. Growing up, I had a variety of friends from different backgrounds.”
She also enjoyed diversity while living in Hampton, a city which has a strong military presence and thus attracts people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. “You get this melting pot of different cultures, foods, and religions,” she says.
In Norfolk, she worked as a clinical laboratory scientist in the flow cytometry department at Sentara Healthcare, where she came under the influence of a hematopathologist. “She was always very encouraging, nurturing me to consider doing more with my career,” says Brown. “It’s always nice to have someone like that in your corner, who’s saying, ‘What you’re doing is great, but you could be doing much more.’ Sometimes you just don’t see that potential within yourself.”
Thanks to her mentor’s encouragement, Brown then attended the Pathologists’ Assistant Program at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, earning a master’s in health science.
After graduating from EVMS, Brown applied for an opening at Mayo Clinic. She thought it was a “longshot” and was almost surprised when she got hired. In a way, Brown is still in mild shock over it because, while she’s worked at a few other hospitals in the past, this is her first job at a major, world-renowned medical institution.
“IT WAS A LITTLE DAUNTING TO COME HERE,” SHE SAYS. “YOU HAVE THAT MOMENT OF BEING INTIMIDATED—ARE PEOPLE GOING TO BE MEAN, OR DIFFICULT? MANY OF OUR PATHOLOGY AND SURGICAL CONSULTANTS ARE PUBLISHED, AND OR HAVE WRITTEN TEXTBOOKS, AND THEY’RE WELL-KNOWN THROUGHOUT THE WORLD FOR THEIR WORK. BUT I’VE NEVER BEEN MET WITH EGO OR ARROGANCE. WHAT TRULY IMPRESSES ME IS HOW GENUINELY PASSIONATE PEOPLE ARE ABOUT WHAT THEY DO. WE’RE ALL WORKING TOGETHER FOR THE GOOD OF THE PATIENT. PEOPLE REALLY WALK THE TALK HERE.”
Brown’s work in pathology, examining specimens from some very sick patients, helps keep her grounded and appreciative of what’s most important in life.
“Although we don’t interact directly with the patients, we have to know their pathologic history, so we know how to approach the specimen,” she says. “Some of the surgical cases are very sad. It just reminds me how short life is, and to focus on things I’m grateful for, and things that make me happy. I think a lot of my colleagues can relate, because we see so many patients who, once they leave here . . . their lives are going to be changed forever.”
To offset seeing those tragic cases, and feeling cooped up during the pandemic, Brown tries to get outdoors every day to do some gardening, take a run, or walk around Cascade Lake. “With everything going on, it feels nice to be outside enjoying the great weather,” she says.
The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t just changed Brown’s personal life, it’s also given her a chance to dial in a broader perspective on things.
“This pandemic is affecting all of us,” she says. “I feel very strongly that this is not a time to be selfish or dismissive of other people’s concerns, because those concerns and worries are valid. People are losing their lives because of this and the disease is still not well understood. We have to work together to beat this thing.”
In January 2021, Brown was considering another big trip to celebrate her birthday month, this time to Australia. But as she watches how the COVID-19 crisis is unfolding, she now has serious hesitations, saying, “At this rate, I don’t think that’s going to work out, but I’ll get there one day.”