3 Questions with Aaron Shmookler, MD, FASCP, QIACM

By Team Critical Values - June 20, 2024

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For Aaron Shmookler, MD, FASCP, QIACM, blood transcends all walks of life. He calls it the “elixir of life,” and says he has “never ceased to be intrigued by all the angles we take to ensure the safety, identity, strength, quality, purity, potency—and sanctity—of blood.” An associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Medicine, and section director of the Blood Bank and Coagulation Laboratory at UK HealthCare, Dr. Shmookler’s interest in blood has readily aligned with his interest in research, continual learning, teaching, and practicing medicine, ensuring he is providing each patient optimal care—whether or not he is collecting or transfusing blood. 

Here, Dr. Shmookler shares his thoughts on his career in pathology, how he handles the emotional aspects of his practice, and more.  

What first drew you to pathology and inspired you to pursue it as a career? 

I had not known about pathology until I was already training in a different practice specialty. When I saw my future co-resident (a former surgery resident) review a peripheral blood smear, render a diagnosis, and write a report – lather, rinse, and repeat – I could not believe such an approach to patient care existed within medicine. At that moment I realized how much I missed my basic sciences education in medical school, and that I could continue learning in this realm. 

Can you share a specific experience or moment that solidified your decision to choose a career in the laboratory? 

Early in my residency I had a phenomenal educator in Blood Bank/Transfusion Medicine introduce me to puzzles – I mean, red cell antibody identification panels. While I could solve them all day long, it wasn’t until I began seeing patients in apheresis when I realized I could have the best of both worlds: I can practice laboratory medicine and see patients all under the scope of a pathologist? Bloody brilliant, I say! 

Pathology can involve challenging cases and emotionally charged situations. How do you handle the emotional aspects of your work, such as delivering difficult diagnoses or dealing with patient outcomes? 

From gut-wrenching and heart-rending traumas to ethical issues regarding blood products manufactured from altruistic volunteer donors who have received a COVID-19 vaccine, there seems to be no shortage of emotional and challenging clinical situations. Nevertheless, each case has teaching points that help me become a better physician and person. At the end of the day, it is vital to have a life outside of medicine. For me, it is spending time with family. For the past couple years my better half (an oncologist) and I have taken up long-distance running, which we both discovered has been most effective in easing our mind and quenching our thirst for podcasts and music, not to mention it is a healthy exercise. Doting on our dogs always is therapeutic, too! 

Team Critical Values

Team Critical Values