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Faculty and Staff

Program Director:

Michael L. Weitzeil

In 2021, the Department of Diagnostic Health and Sciences (DDHS) at UTHSC hired Michael L. Weitzeil, MHS, PA(ASCP)CM to be the Program Director for the newly developing Pathologists’ Assistant Program. Prior to moving to Memphis, Michael spent 6 years as the Clinical Coordinator for the Loma Linda University (LLU) School of Medicine, Pathologists’ Assistant program. While at LLU, not only did he work clinically, but he played an important role in assisting the program through their initial NAACLS accreditation and taught several critical courses in their curriculum.

Michael is a cum laude graduate of the West Virginia University School of Medicine, Pathologists’ Assistant program. He received his Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Weber State University (Ogden, Utah), with minors in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He started his career in Pathology while still an undergraduate, as a Pathology Technician at Intermountain Medical Center in Murry, Utah.

In his free time, Michael is passionate about spending time with his family in the greater outdoors, including hiking, rock climbing, canyoneering, and mountaineering.

Michael's Personal Teaching Philosophy

To My Future Students

The Personal Teaching Philosophy of Michael L. Weitzeil, MHS, PA(ASCP)CM

 

The first time I was asked to “gross a colon,” I stood over the surgical specimen at my gross bench as if I had just stepped out of a rocket ship on a far-away planet. I flipped the tissue over, flopped it back, and then I flipped it over again…each time it looked even more foreign. I felt lost and disoriented. This was the earliest memory as a Pathologists’ Assistant student in surgical pathology clinical training that I felt alienated from my education. While I had (indeed, very vigorously and thoroughly) studied and prepared for this moment, I did not feel adequate to pick up my surgical scissors and begin searching for cancer. I had been well prepared by my graduate school instructors, but this felt different. This was real human tissue, with real cancer, awaiting a real diagnosis and it was now my turn. It was in this moment that I faintly recalled one of my professors stating, “…at some point you will have to transition from theory, into practice. Trust what you have learned.” I jotted down some notes, took a deep breath, confirmed the orientation of the tissue, picked up my surgical scissors and made my first cut.

The intentional tissue dissection done by a pathologists’ assistant is deeply rooted in understanding the anatomical relationships of the organs in the human body and the diseases that affect them. The workload and pace of a practicing pathologists’ assistant is often never ending and hurried. Often, the challenge that awaits preemptive students is not the amount of didactic material to learn or the fast pace at which it is introduced, but the transition from theory to practice. It is easy to memorize the different segments of colon and the diseases that affect them but being able to critically think one’s way through the gross dissection of those tissues requires very specific psychomotor skills, mentorship, critical thinking, and knowledge.

As a student of mine, I ask that you arrive early to your classes well-rested, focused, and ready to enthusiastically absorb the curriculum. I will embrace your questions as I lecture and demonstrate laboratory concepts. I feel that it is my responsibility to guide you through your graduate school journey in such a way that everything we do together will prepare you for and emulate your gross groom experience. It is the teachers/mentors who have actively engaged with me and provoked critical thinking that have had the most positive influence on my educational and professional development. I intend to do the same with you.

I love to engage in active, intentionally directed, and knowledge-seeking dialogue with my students. Some of my most fulfilling student engagements have happened in the human cadaver laboratory when a student will be partially completed with a dissection assignment and discover “something” unanticipated. Quickly, they will curiously call me over and ask, “what is this?” fully anticipating a direct response from me. I peer over the cadaver and if I can identify it, I often respond with, “what could it be?” Surprised, the student often responds with some variation of, “I don’t know…that’s why I called you over.” “Ok, let’s look at it together.” 

At this point, I take the opportunity to employ techniques used in the gross room to identify a yet-unknown component of the human body. I ask questions that the student might not have thought to ask themselves yet, like: “Which organs are located in this region of the body?” “Can you describe the appearance of this tissue?” “Which organs in this region of the body have an appearance like this?” Once, the student arrives at a conclusion (either correct or incorrect), I do not confirm it. I encourage them to carefully continue dissecting and call me back when they have more definitive information. 

“It’s “this”!” they often declare when I am called back to the cadaver table. To which I respond, “What evidence supports your claim?” I listen as they describe how they arrived at their conclusion. If their critically thought-out answer is correct, I take a moment to tell them why I went through all that trouble, “…this is the process which you must learn to utilize daily in the gross room when you encounter complex tissue resections.” As my student, it is my goal (in everything I do) to set the standard of using independent critical thinking to work through a complex question and arrive at an evidence-based conclusion; this learned skill makes for an excellent pathologists’ assistant and I hope to instill it in you in our classroom and laboratory interactions.

As a student of mine you will be closely and regularly assessed while under my tutelage. Assessments will cover cognitive ability, psychomotor skills, professionalism, and the ability to effectively communicate verbally and in writing. Formal and informal assessments will happen regularly, in person, and at the end of each course.

 An important component of the evolution of my curriculum and professional capabilities includes embracing honest and constructive feedback from you. Years ago, a student offered constructive criticism about how to organize the laboratory schedule for a course I taught. Her recommendation was a radical way of thinking about the laboratory experience. I thought her recommendation through and asked her to meet and discuss her idea further; I listened as she explained her experience and I quickly became convinced that her recommendation was a much better approach than what had historically been done. She never got to experience the new laboratory sessions because she passed the course, but her constructive feedback has benefited all my students that followed her. Her recommendation, and the recommendations of other students before you, will benefit you too. I welcome constructive feedback and trust that your recommendations may have the ability to enhance the quality of my curriculum and program, help me improve as an instructor and create a better learning experience for my future students. Our ability to be honest and trusting of each other will be the foundation of our professional relationship.

I want you to feel safe in my learning environment. I hope to cultivate a welcoming and inclusive place for all students I interact with. My intention is that you may thrive and be successful in your own unique way. I commit to continually identifying and rectifying my conscious and subconscious biases, privileges, and prejudices to facilitate safe and meaningful interactions for all of my students of differing cultures, social identities, values, beliefs, perspectives, and experiences. I hope that you will feel welcomed, equal, and valued while in my classroom and in the Pathologists’ Assistant program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Jul 28, 2022