Celebrating Women in Medicine and Pathology Informatics 2024! 
Meet Dr. Audrey Bennett


API is grateful for Roche's generous co-support of the Women’s Networking Nightcap for PI Summit 2024 on Tuesday, May 21st, 7:30 - 9:30 pm in Conference Room D at Eagle Crest Resort in Ypsilanti, MI. This is a great opportunity for women in the field to come together! Come meet Dr. Bennett and the Roche team in-person! 

Audrey Bennett, M.D., is a pathologist and Pathology Liaison at Roche Diagnostics in the non-commercial division of Medical and Scientific Affairs. As part of the Pathology / Oncology Tissue Field team, her primary role is to provide education to customers and internal colleagues regarding the medical value, utility, and scientific background of our Roche assays and Companion Diagnostic testing. She is a member of the Breast Integrated Medical Team focusing on breast cancer biomarker testing, and also has a special interest in Digital Pathology.

Dr. Bennett is board-certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, with residency training at the University of Virginia. She had subsequent fellowship training in Hematopathology, also at University of Virginia. Dr. Bennett practiced pathology in community practice in Columbus, Ohio, prior to joining Roche 2 years ago.

I first met Dr. Bennett this year at USCAP in Baltimore and I was immediately welcomed with a cheery hello and warm hug. Although we had never before met, we immediately connected and I am excited to share what I learned in my interview with Dr. Bennett for API’s celebration of Women in Medicine and for her contribution to pathology and pathology informatics:

GRACE: Hello Dr. Bennett, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Nova Smith, API’s Executive Director, was the co-creator of the Women’s Networking Event at PI Summit and this gathering has always been near and dear to her heart. API has been a central supporter of this event by formalizing it in 2018 as part of a permanent feature of PI Summit. M.E. (Doc) De Baca and her wife, Karen Mudd, have continued to financially support the meeting alongside API’s sponsorship. We are excited that we have Roche to help co-sponsor the event as we think it is crucial for women to find a community within this special group of pathology informaticists. During our “Mentoring Monday” sessions, we have learned that most people’s journey into this field is never ordinary.  Can you begin by telling me about how you entered the field of pathology?

AUDREY: My journey started as an avid childhood reader, followed by an interest in science and immunology in undergraduate school. I first became a physical therapist, and subsequently, pursued medical school. Finally, the choice of pathology as my specialty became obvious through discussions with mentors and friends in the medical community. Training at the University of Virginia provided instructors and mentors who were widely recognized leaders, academic pathologists, and accomplished general surgical pathologists, who helped instill in me my passion for diagnostic pathology.

GRACE: Can you describe your journey into pathology informatics? Who were your early mentors? How did they support you?

AUDREY: Most of my pathology residency training, from 2001 to 2006, was not necessarily influenced by digital pathology, except for my final year, in which UVA instituted a web based secure VPN system for frozen section “telepathology”, linked to our frozens microscope, so we could convey to the attending pathologist at home a live slide review from our scope. Previously, frozens could entail calling in our attending from home for a consultation. Needless to say, this virtual frozens coverage was fully embraced, and introduced this technology to me. Practicing pathology in Columbus Ohio, I had the opportunity to attend yearly continuing education at Ohio State University, where I first heard Dr. Anil Parwani speaking about adoption and implementation of digital pathology. Ohio State was the first US institution to go fully digital in their pathology department, and I could hear about their journey each year during the OSU courses. It was fascinating to me, as I became aware of the changes anticipated for the future in pathology. Bringing some of the ideas back to my own pathology practice, I was very lucky that our administration and laboratory medical director were supportive, and actively adopted new technology within our pathology department, including barcoding of anatomic pathology specimens, image analysis for breast biomarkers, remote sign out capability for pathologists during rapid on site assessments in EBUS procedures, and fully automated tracking system for specimens in the clinical lab. I joined the digital pathology societies, including Association for Pathology Informatics and Digital Pathology Association, to keep up with publications and CME in this area. Here at Roche, there is a wonderful opportunity to continue learning and working with digital pathology, including using our viewer software for virtual demonstrations using digitized slides, and our image analysis algorithms for biomarkers assessment. A large part of my role is education of pathologists who are interested in moving into digital pathology, and highlighting the practical uses and benefits in a typical pathology workflow. This is a very rewarding part of my job. Finally, I work with many colleagues and leaders in digital pathology within Roche, some of whom are pathologists, who have been influential to me within this area, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn from them in my role here.

GRACE: How did you become involved with Roche?  What was it about the intersection between industry and medicine that attracted you?

AUDREY: At Roche Diagnostics in Medical Affairs, Pathology plays a huge role in the innovation and development of assays, as well as in field team interactions with pathologists who are implementing and using these assays and technologies. I remember telling a colleague how lucky I felt to have chosen pathology, since I never realized how useful this could be outside of a traditional medical career, and how much I loved continuing to study and educate within pathology. In an industry setting, there is a focus on education and engagement with others, both within Roche and also with external customers, where I am able to translate my experience in pathology into directly helping others. 

GRACE: You are an accomplished pathologist and spokesperson for Roche. With your level of global visibility, how do you see your role for women just entering the field of pathology and pathology informatics?  As you know, this subspecialty is still relatively new and has a low level of female representation. What do you think needs to be done to encourage more women to enter the field?

AUDREY:  I will first say that I feel lucky to have been raised as one of 5 children (4 girls and 1 boy), in a family where there was no consideration of gender limitations - there was an inherent assumption and encouragement for each of us to choose a career related to our interests, for as long as I can remember, and as such, my options felt unlimited. I love seeing this move forward as young women in my own family consider roles in medicine and science, hopefully influenced at least in part by seeing my career path. It is interesting that approximately 50% of my medical school class were women, and in the field of pathology, women tend to be slightly more represented, possibly related to mostly from home call in pathology training and practice, allowing women to spend time at home with their families. Looking within the field of pathology and informatics, including here at Roche, I see women pathologists, including women leaders in pathology and informatics (and API’s new president is Ji-Yeon Kim!), as “equals” and as respected pathologists, regardless of gender. All this being said, I acknowledge within informatics and technology, there is a known history of underrepresentation of women, particularly in leadership roles. One way we can improve women representation in pathology and informatics starts with each of us - providing support and education early in life for young students, and throughout our own careers, we as women in medicine can fully support and champion other women aspiring to be medical doctors, pathologists and informaticists. I believe we should encourage an early focus on pathology informatics education, beginning in medical school and residency training, to promote understanding and awareness of this newer aspect of pathology. 

GRACE: From your perspective, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing pathology and implementation strategies today? What kinds of solutions do you see as key to moving past them?

AUDREY: In terms of digital pathology implementation, there are certainly challenges. The initial cost/investment for labs to digitize slides is a barrier, and labs may need to obtain administrative buy-in, and may need to approach the digitization process incrementally. Part of the solution here is to educate administrators as to the long term benefits, and the reasons for investment in digital pathology. Without digitizing slides, application of AI tools cannot be done, so digitization is foundational. Another part of the solution to the financial burden could be incremental implementation, which allows a more gradual adoption, so costs can be better absorbed. Another challenge as I see it is the choice between incorporating different applications / software into a lab’s digital pathology system, versus having a digital pathology system with FDA approval or clearance. For example, a DP system that gets FDA clearance or approval typically includes the entire system (scanner, viewer software, monitor, image analysis software). However once different components and / or AI tools are incorporated, often from a different vendor, the system is now modified, and would require validation as a laboratory developed test (LDT). We want choices, however an FDA cleared system is desirable. One solution here is possibly adjusting our expectations - FDA clearance and approval helps to give us confidence in a system; however modifications can be validated by laboratories, allowing use of additional AI tools that can provide greater diagnostic capabilities in a broad range of ways. Finally, there is the challenge of interoperability between DP systems, which is also desirable. We can imagine this would greatly benefit labs and ultimately patients, given the expanded diagnostic options. However this appears to be a long term endeavor, perhaps beginning with standardization of image file formats among other things. In the long run, this is a very exciting time in pathology, with so much to look forward to, and so much advancement in technology. Career options in pathology are increasing within informatics, and women leaders in pathology informatics can help, and are already helping, to pave the way for women to play a part in this exciting field. 

GRACE: Dr. Bennett, thank you so much for taking the time to share your personal and professional story. You are charged with an important responsibility to promote new technologies to improve patient care across the world and we are glad you have been able to share your story with us.

Be sure to meet the Diamond Exhibitor Roche Team
at Booth (#4) in the Exhibit Hall!