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Meet surgical pathologist Dr. Christopher Otis - he is medicine's private detective

February 16, 2017

Not all doctors are front and center in the patient experience.

Take Dr. Christopher Otis, for example. He’s perfectly happy behind the scenes doing what he does best as medical director of Surgical Pathology and Immunohistochemistry at Baystate Medical Center.

But, his role as a surgical pathologist is indispensable. With the microscope and other advanced tools, Dr. Otis examines tissues removed during surgery to help diagnose a disease and determine a treatment plan. Frequently, Dr. Otis renders a diagnosis of one of thousands of different types of cancer.

Just speaking with Dr. Otis, you know he is a man of science.

Pathologists enjoy solving problems

“Pathologists tend to be quiet, introspective individuals….who enjoy solving problems,” said Dr. Jack S. Moskowitz, who serves on the Board of Governors of the American Osteopathic College of Pathologists.

That’s Dr. Otis.

“All of my life I’ve been more interested in the science behind medicine. Pathology as a discipline is closer than any to the basic science of underlying disease, and in most instances is responsible for bringing to the forefront new therapies based on basic science to be applied to clinical care,” said Dr. Otis.

The Baystate pathologist was exposed to the specialty as a young child.

Pathology grabbed him

“My father was chief of anatomic pathology at Hartford Hospital for nearly 34 years before his retirement. So, I knew about it while growing up. It’s not that I didn’t have an interest in clinical medicine, it’s just that working as a pathologist is what grabbed me in medical school, and still does,” said Dr. Otis.

While earning his undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Bowdoin College in Maine, Dr. Otis completed an honors thesis which brought him closer to basic science and research.

“My thesis was about malignant hyperthermia, a rare inherited condition that can be fatal. Malignant hyperthermia occurs when a person is administered a certain type of general anesthesia. Patients develop extremely high fevers during anesthesia and may die,” said Dr. Otis.

He knew of such a fatal situation during college and decided to work with the anesthesiologist to determine if other family members might be at risk for the problem by developing a test for just this situation.

“So, we did some good by identifying other family members who were susceptible to the disease. I was looking at science and the idea of translational research even back then. I wanted to publish my thesis, but it was 70 pages long,” he added.

Outside of the hospital

Outside of the hospital, you would never guess this man of science’s favorite pastime. Motorsports.

“I enjoy motorsports and the thrill of racing or just practicing racing skills on the track.” Dr. Otis said. My dad restored old Rolls Royce automobiles as a hobby and actually spent six weeks in England to learn how to use veneers for complicated wood work on the cars’ interiors. His restoration efforts offered him stress release from the busy pathology lab at Hartford Hospital. I also became somewhat of a wrench guy, partly because all the tools were there for me.”

Activity wise, Dr. Otis was a pretty successful downhill skier in high school and college.

“That’s one of the reasons I went to Bowdoin College in Maine, because they had a good ski team,” said Dr. Otis, who eventually went on to attend Yale University School of Medicine.

Dr. Otis shares his love of science with his wife, Dr. Roxanne Florence, who is medical director of Cytopathology at Baystate. His stepson, Nolan, is a freshman at the Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut.