Meet Dr. Pia Mendoza, a Pathologist in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Mendoza is from the provincial city of Tacloban in the Philippines. She is the third of four siblings and the only one in her immediate family who is in the medical field. Dr. Mendoza is inspired by her maternal grandfather who was a doctor (general surgeon) in their small hometown of Tacloban. Dr. Mendoza strives to be a compassionate doctor, just like her grandfather.
Dr. Mendoza came to the US initially to pursue a sub specialization (fellowship) in Ophthalmic Pathology since there were no formal training programs back home. Ophthalmic Pathology is a rare specialty and there are only a handful of places where you can train for this and fortunately, she was able to get into the program at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, which is part of the Harvard Medical School system. Her plan was to train in the US and go back to the Philippines to practice Ophthalmology, but her plans changed.
While she was in her training program, she reconnected with her now husband, Michael, who she knew since college. After medical school, Dr. Michael left for the US to do his residency in Syracuse, New York but she stayed in Manila to do Ophthalmology. After his residency, Michael visited his home in the Philippines and he and Pia reconnected and started dating.
There were numerous opportunities that opened for both Michael and Pia after their training. Opportunities for career growth in the clinical, research, and public health aspects of medicine, which would have otherwise not been available to them if they decided to stay in the Philippines. In the US, they had the privilege of being trained at world-renowned institutions, using cutting edge technology, and learning from mentors who are leaders in their respective fields. Economically, they have much more earning potential here in the U.S. and are able to give their children a comfortable life and opportunities to pursue their dreams, while also supporting their families back home in the Philippines.
Dr. Mendoza started working in this position at Wellstar Medical Group in valid O-1 status (Individual with Extraordinary Ability and Achievement) due to her extraordinary ability as a physician specializing in pathology. She eventually changed to H-1B status (specialty occupation) after receiving her J-1 waiver. Dr. Mendoza provides pathology services to a medically underserved and health professional shortage area, which contributes to the availability of pathology services and provides consistent and competent coverage for patients in this area.
Prior to working as a Pathologist with Wellstar, Dr. Mendoza served as a physician and a fellow at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where she specialized in Anatomical Pathology and sub-specialized in Neuropathology.
She began her career in the field of medicine in 1998, when she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines. When she graduated in 2002, she immediately went to Medical School at the University of the East, Philippines. She then completed her General Medicine Internship in 2006 for one year at the Philippine General Hospital and in 2007, she took and passed the Philippine Medical Licensure Examination. Upon achieving her medical license, she completed her Ophthalmology Residency at the Eye Institute of St. Luke’s Medical Center, Philippines.
In 2012, she went to Boston Massachusetts and completed her Ophthalmic Pathology Research Fellowship at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary-Harvard Medical School. In 2013, Dr. Mendoza became a Fellow in Ophthalmic Pathology and Oncology at the Emory University Eye Center in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2015, she focused on Pathology and specialized in Anatomic and Clinical discipline by completing her residency at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. She also completed her Neuropathology Fellowship at Emory University.
Throughout her endeavors as a Pathologist, Dr. Mendoza was able to achieve so much more – from distinguished recognitions by different institutions to rigorous published research and journals. Thus, Dr. Mendoza’s contribution in the field of Medicine is beyond serving in the Hospital as a physician She is a Pathologist whose contribution transcends to research and widening of human understanding, thus helping humanity to advance further in addressing illnesses in general.
Dr. Mendoza was initially an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) and she loved interacting with patients and doing eye surgeries. However, after her ophthalmology residency in the Philippines, she was involved in research about the molecular genetics of retinoblastoma (a type of eye cancer in children), how this drives the disease, and how to apply the results to actual clinical practice for diagnosis and treatment. This severe disease in kids motivated Dr. Mendoza to be a Pathologist.
Dr. Mendoza says that although pathologists are more of a “behind the scenes” type of doctor because they usually work in the labs and don’t see the patients in person, they only see “parts” of the patients, they still are the backbone for any medical facility. Dr. Mendoza loves the intellectual challenge that comes with being a pathologist. Dr. Mendoza thinks of a Pathologist as a detective, who needs to put all the clues together (the patient’s clinical history, the radiology findings, laboratory results, and the histopathology findings under the microscope) to come up with the answer. The work they do is so important because they are the ones who give the general reports to any life changing diseases be it cancer, tumor, or anything. As a Neuropathologist, her work involves diagnosing brain tumors, which can be terrible and devastating diseases, but she always strives to do her best for each case and utilizes all the tools at her disposal to be as accurate as possible with her work to ensure that the patient gets the correct diagnosis and thus can guide the other doctors to do the same.
Dr. Mendoza recently got a biopsy of herself for a lump in her breast and had to wait for the diagnosis from a pathologist. Thankfully it turned out to be benign, but she now understands how hard it is to be on the other side and how important the work of a pathologist is in a patient’s experience.
“There have been so many positive changes in my life since I’ve immigrated to the US, however there were also a lot of difficult situations. In 2017, my father passed away from colon cancer and it was a very painful period in my life since I was working here, and he was back home. During his final days, I was then pregnant with my eldest daughter and could not travel due to pregnancy complications, so I was not able to spend time with him and did not have a chance to say goodbye in person before he passed. But he always told me that he understood and always made sure I knew how proud he was of me and my achievements”.
Dr. Mendoza, being the only international medical graduate (IMG) during her first two years of her residency program at Emory, she was often contacted by other IMGs from the Philippines and other countries for advice on how to successfully navigate through the US pathology residency application process. Both her husband and her are now mentoring a group called the Young Alumni Development Program through their medical school for graduates interested in coming to the US for training. She also volunteered for the Young Physicians Initiative Doctor for A Day Conference, giving demonstrations of gross pathology specimens and discussed the specialty of pathology with high school and college students primarily from minority and underserved backgrounds in the state of Georgia who are interested in the medical field. Dr. Mendoza is often asked to give lectures and teaching sessions by many of her contemporaries in the Philippines and she is very happy to share the knowledge she has gained to help her colleagues back home.
“My immigration journey has been a long and arduous because both my husband and I had to go through the J-1 visa and then the waiver process separately as individuals, and in addition to that I had to apply for the O-1 visa as well. There was always the fear that if one of our visas was not approved then one of us might have to return to the Philippines. It was extremely scary and stressful to even think of our family getting separated especially with our two young children and during a global pandemic.
We are extremely grateful to Garvish Immigration Law Group for guiding us through our immigration journey and making our American dream a reality.
My ever-supportive husband, my two wonderful children, and my family in the US and back home, and my father who is my guardian angel keep me motivated and push me to work harder. I am blessed to be able to work at a job that I love and that I feel is meaningful.”
This spotlight was written by our Case Manager, Ritu Vellanki and Sr. Associate Attorney, Nadia Deans Kalata.
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