A Passion for Pathology

Bonnie Brenseke, PhD | Interim Chair of Pathology
Earned PhD at Virginia Tech


It wasn’t until the second year of her professional medical training that Bonnie Brenseke discovered her professional passion. She was fascinated by pathology, the study of disease, and how that knowledge could help improve and extend the lives of her patients. Her four-legged patients.

Brenseke, the new Interim Chair of Pathology at the School of Osteopathic Medicine, admits she took an unconventional path to get to Buies Creek. A Winston-Salem native, Brenseke wanted to become a veterinarian from childhood and pursued that dream as an undergraduate and veterinary student at North Carolina State University. She had a clear goal — to become a practicing small-animal veterinarian. However, in her second year of vet school, she discovered the discipline of pathology and spent much of the next two years in the necropsy, or animal autopsy, lab. By the fourth year, she’d made up her mind. She was going to be a pathologist. Brenseke went on to a pathology residency at the vet school on the Virginia Tech campus and, while there, earned her PhD at Virginia Tech.

“Everyone asks me ‘What department are you in?’ And I say ‘I’m with CUSOM, the osteopathic medicine school….’ And they’re like ‘Oh, so you’re a doctor.’ ‘Yes, I am a doctor. I’m a veterinarian,’” says Brenseke. “There’s always that pause and then they ask ‘Why are you here?’”

But for Brenseke, the answer is clear. Knowledge of disease, its causes and treatments and how it affects biological systems, is essential for understanding how to treat patients, whether on four legs or two.

“Pathology is the study of disease. For humans and animals — disease is often the same. Animals can give humans disease; we can give them disease. Some of the diseases are exactly the same,” says Brenseke, a board certified pathologist. “So I picked a good discipline that actually blends well with any kind of medicine. “

In her role with the medical school, she has not only designed curriculum for pathology courses, but will also be teaching the pathology portions of courses and assisting with some of the anatomy labs. Students will be presented with courses in histology of tissues and cells and general pathology courses for systems, such as the renal system, cardiorespiratory system and pathology of the heart.

The freedom to design and teach curriculum at a new medical school is an exciting venture and a bit daunting. Just a short time ago, she was a student presented with tried and tested lectures. Now, she gets to start from scratch and decide how information is presented to medical students.

“It’s almost scary. How do you want to teach this lecture? How do you want to teach this lab? It’s a very unique experience,” says Brenseke. “It takes a special group of people who have a positive attitude and are enthusiastic to make this school successful.”

And she expects her students to take on that same pioneering spirit.

“They’re going to have to go to the faculty to ask questions if they don’t understand and to rely on each other. There’s no prior class to tell you how things work,” she says. “They’re going to be one the ones that define the success of the school. I hope they come out of this program with a sense of pride and ownership that they feel they accomplished something.”