The designation of University marshal, the first academic official to enter the commencement hall, is among the highest honors bestowed upon a faculty member at RUSH University. The marshal leads and attends to the procession ritual of the University faculty, the graduating students and the president’s party.
The marshal, bearing the University’s mace, symbolizes the authority and leadership that faculty exercise over the educational process to ensure the preparation of competent and responsible graduates. In representing the faculty, the marshal is a member held in highest esteem for significant accomplishments in teaching, research, service and patient care.
The 2023 RUSH University marshal representing RUSH Medical College is Vijaya B. Reddy, MD, MBA, Chairperson and The Harriet Blair Borland Professor, Department of Pathology. Dr. Reddy has served as the program director of health disparities fellowships of the Building Healthy Urban Communities Project of RUSH University funded by BMO Harris bank. Reddy has previously held the posts of medical student course director and residency program director in the Department of Pathology.
Reddy completed her residency in anatomic and clinical pathology and a fellowship in surgical pathology and cytopathology at Loyola University Medical Center. She completed her fellowship in dermatopathology at New York University Medical Center under the mentorship of A. Bernard Ackerman, MD. She also received an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and was a fellow in the prestigious Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program.
Reddy is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts and 16 book chapters. She has coauthored or edited four textbooks in pathology. Her clinical interests include dermatopathology and soft tissue pathology.
"Be prepared to face the challenges and work hard. Based on your successes so far, you can do it and come out making the world better than you found it."
A Q&A with RUSH University 2023 Commencement Marshal Vijaya B. Reddy, MD, MBA
Tell me about your background. When did you start at RUSH?
I came to RUSH in 1997 as an associate professor. In 2003, I became the pathology course director for the second-year medical students and ran the course for 8 years. I had the opportunity to be a mentor for the incoming students during those years. Since then, I have moved to become a full professor and the chair of the department of pathology. I also served as acting chair of the dermatology department for two years.
Can you explain the importance of pathology in health care?
Every day we hear about a patient’s diagnosis, but many people do not know who made that diagnosis. Pathology is the medical specialty that provides diagnostic information to patients and clinicians and impacts all aspects of patient care. Pathologists are fundamental to patient care, often working behind the scenes to make critical decisions and providing the necessary information for the patient facing physician to act on. We use gross, microscopic, genetic and molecular modalities to detect cancer and other diseases and work closely with surgeons, radiologists and oncologists. Pathologists also subspecialize in different areas such as dermatopathology, gynecologic pathology etc. and for every subspecialty in medicine or surgery there is a pathologist counterpart.
I think pathology used to be a little bit of a background specialty and a lot of people did not fully understand what a pathologist does. I think this is even true of medical students because we emphasize the pathologic basis of disease in the M1-M2 class work which is very different from practice of diagnostic pathology. With advances in molecular diagnostics and targeted therapies, pathology is in the forefront of medicine, especially when it comes to cancer care.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the discipline of pathology received a lot of attention. We were asked to come up with the mechanism to test as many patients as we can and keep them healthy as much as we could. In a very short amount of time, with very little notice, pathologists across the country really stepped up to the task and put tests in place and provided critical services for our patients at large. I think the pandemic brought some well-deserved attention to pathologists and pathology in general, especially the laboratory testing part of it.
Are there any initiatives at RUSH that you have taken part in?
Under the mentorship of Dr. Larry Goodman, I got involved with RUSH’s partnership with Malcom X College. I was able to participate in various projects in the partnership and advocate for the students and faculty at Malcom X College. I was the program director for the health disparities fellowships which was a part of the Building Healthy Urban Communities, a partnership between RUSH, Malcolm X College and Medical Home network funded by a $5 million grant from BMO Harris Bank. The initiative aimed to improve health outcomes, education and employment for underserved communities on the west and south sides of Chicago. A good number of the health disparity fellows are currently working at RUSH and have advanced their careers significantly.
Tell me about your role as a mentor.
During my time as the pathology course director, the medical college had a student mentoring program that I participated in. At the beginning of every school year, 15 students were assigned to each mentor.
I would work with this group through their graduation. I would also help them in selecting their specialties including where they wanted to go and what residency they were seeking. It was at least a 4-year long relationship that I had with each group of students which was a very meaningful experience.
What is your favorite part when it comes to working with students?
The students are not only ambitious but also bring so much excitement into every class and every group. I think when we work with them, they make us feel young again. I really love their enthusiasm and how they come up with so many ideas. They energize the space. They really bring a fresh outlook to the medical field, and it reminds me of what a privilege it is to be a physician.
As a leader in your field and within RUSH Medical College, what advice do you have for students developing their leadership skills?
Say YES to the opportunities that are offered to you. Some students may be intentional in this and plant their flag and say this is what I want to do which is also ok. But remember, it takes time to build your reputation and it takes time to build your experience. Opportunities come all the time, you have to be willing to say yes and be willing to work hard. You are in a great profession; you chose to be in health care and not everybody can say that. Take it seriously, it’s a wonderful profession so take pride in it. It means a lot to you, your family and the world.
What advice would you give our graduating students as they enter the workforce?
I would say that you are entering the health care workforce at a very challenging time so be prepared to face the challenges and work hard. Based on your successes so far, you can do it and come out making the world better than you found it.