Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Hannah Kastenbaum

kastenbaumName: Hannah Kastenbaum

Education (UR and additional): BA (Biology), University of Rochester, 2003; MD, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, 2007; Residency in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 2011; Fellowship in Forensic Pathology, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center/ Office of the Medical Investigator, 2011-2012

Current city/state of residence:  Albuquerque, NM

Job Title: Associate Medical Investigator, Assistant Professor of Pathology

Employer: New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator/University of New Mexico

 Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

I was looking for small-to-medium universities with good science programs, affiliated medical centers, and a lot of room in the schedule for electives. UR definitely fit the bill I loved the classic college campus look of the place (even if it was mostly covered in snow).  The Rush Rhees scholarship was also super helpful.

When and how did you choose your major?

I knew coming in to college that I wanted to be a biology major. I’d really enjoyed the subject in high school and knew it would easily cover all my prerequisites for medical school. I opted for a BA over a BS so I’d have more elective time to explore other interests.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

As an incoming freshman, I was placed on the International Living Center, one of the Special Interest Housing groups in Anderson tower. (At that time, the freshmen were integrated with the upperclassmen in the dorms.) I stayed there for all four years and held a myriad of leadership positions. I got some great leadership experience, made some spectacular friends, and learned a lot about their varied cultural backgrounds.

What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?

I took advantage of the flexibility of the Rochester Curriculum to spend some time in the studio art department and dabble in psychology, history, language, and even film! These classes were a great escape from the pressure and heavy single-minded science focus of pre-med prereqs.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Again, I sort of always knew I wanted to go to medical school. I applied as a senior and was lucky enough to get accepted- so I went!

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I’m currently working in my first attending-level job as a forensic pathologist as a Medical Investigator for the State of New Mexico. Because our office is affiliated with the University of New Mexico, I’m also fortunate to have an academic posting as an Assistant Professor of Pathology and am taking every opportunity to acquire teaching and research experience and exposure.  I really enjoyed the physiology, pathobiology, and histology in medical school, so I got interested in Pathology. In residency, I was hooked by the process and puzzle of autopsies. I think this is an important service to provide to the community in a competent and compassionate manner. My job is strange and fascinating and challenging every day. 

How do you balance your work and personal life?

I love my job and my field, but it can be very emotionally stressful. I try to compartmentalize and leave work at work. I think it is important to get out, relax, have a few good laughs, and remember what is wonderful in the world. I also compensate by being the social events ‘coordinator’ for my friends and coworkers.

How are you still connected with the University?

When I lived in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, I volunteered to do alumni admissions interviews. It was a fun way to meet some really interesting and motivated high school students. I signed up as a volunteer again in 2012 and have been very pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest in UR by students from New Mexico! I went to Meliora Weekend in 2010 and again in 2013 for my 10-year reunion. It was great to catch up with friends and see some familiar faces. I’ve also started volunteering as a “Real Reader” for the BIO/WRT 272 Course, Developing a Professional Biology Writing Portfolio. It has been a great way to interact with some current students.