Bruce E. King, M.D., serves as Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Lancaster General Hospital. We asked Dr. King about why he chose pathology, his department’s current priorities and his love of baking.
What is your background?
I grew up near Jonestown, in Lebanon County. I always wanted to do something science-related. Seven of my dad’s nine siblings are doctors or nurses, or married to doctors or nurses. This is especially interesting because my grandfather was in his 60s before he got his GED. Family reunions are always a kick, with discussions on different aspects of medicine. We have two ophthalmologists, an ENT doc, a pediatrician, OB-GYN, orthopedic trauma surgeon and some family physicians. I was the only “smart” one to go into pathology. I graduated from Lancaster Mennonite High School and Eastern Mennonite University, where I was a pre-med major.
How did you choose pathology?
I had no exposure to pathology until I got into a lab and fell in love with how it works. I worked as a medical technologist for a couple of years before some pathologists who were my mentors inspired me to go to medical school. I enrolled at the Medical College of Virginia, planning to be a pathologist or a surgeon. My future wife—a fellow medical technologist I met in the lab—said she wouldn’t marry me if I became a surgeon. We were planning to have a big family, and she didn’t want me to be gone all the time. We moved to Vermont for five years for my pathology residency, where I discovered a passion for hematology and hematopathology.
How did you return to Lancaster?
After completing my fellowship in hematopathology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 1999, I applied for jobs in many different locations. I was excited to learn about this opportunity, which kind of came out of nowhere. It happened fast, and I was really nervous for the interview. I got here so early that it was still dark outside. I left my car lights on, and my battery died during the interview. Despite that, I was thrilled to get the job as a staff pathologist with a focus on hematology.
How did you get into a leadership role?
Over my now 20 years at LGH, I’ve always been interested in improving the way we do our work. Pathology is like a big funnel, with work coming in from many different departments. We handle more than 2 million tests and 26,000 surgical cases—or more than 100,000 slides—every year. With just eight pathologists, our challenge is to provide high-quality services as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. I previously served as an interim department chair and as Dr. Lorenzo Galindo’s vice chair before his retirement. I became chair Oct. 1.
What do you like most about your work?
Pathologists are often called “the doctor’s doctor,” because we primarily serve other clinicians. As an anatomic pathologist, I examine tissues—everything from a suspicious mole or GI biopsy to large cancer resections. I’ve always been a problem solver. It’s kind of like being Sherlock Holmes, where you’re figuring out the answer to a puzzle. It’s very rewarding to put the pieces together to make a diagnosis that may have eluded someone else.
What are some of your current priorities for the department?
We continually work to stay on the cutting edge by implementing new technology, such as molecular testing and flow cytometry. Decreasing turnaround time for test results is another major area of focus. Our department has great people and a strong commitment to continuous improvement. The most valuable suggestions usually come from front-line staff, since they are in the trenches and see potential issues firsthand. We are collaborating across disciplines to ensure that we order the right tests at the right time for our patients. Our clinicians are busy taking care of patients, and they sometimes aren’t aware of the costs of the tests they order and that there may be better options. We try to help educate and be a resource for our clinicians so we can minimize unnecessary or redundant testing. We are increasingly utilizing algorithms and Epic prompts to provide real-time guidance as clinicians are ordering tests. Essentially we want to make it easier to order the right lab tests at the right time.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I inherited a love of cooking from my dad. Baking is my big thing, including baklava from scratch, crème brulee and a lot of pastries. My older son and I usually make most of the food for Thanksgiving. My wife and I have four children, ages 20 to 25. They live in four different states and have very different interests. Isaac is getting his PhD in nanotechnology. Dan is a car fabricator here in Lancaster. Abby is finishing her degree in journalism, and Molly is a college sophomore, majoring in conflict resolution. I spend a lot of time keeping up with family and friends. I’m also a really big fan of genealogy. I’ve traced my dad’s side to the 1700s here in the states and early 1500s from Lake Thun, which is southwest of Bern, Switzerland. I’ve traced my mom’s family to the 1600s. They were part of the original Plymouth colony settlers associated with the Mayflower.