Kona Williams - Forensic Pathologist

Forensic Pathologist, Ontario Forensic Pathology Service

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada), but I grew up all over this country.

I now live in: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I completed my training/education at: BSc Honours - Dalhousie University. MD - University of Ottawa. FRCPC (Anatomical Pathology) - University of Ottawa. FRCPC (Forensic Pathology) - University of Toronto.

Describe what you do at work.

Each day is different. Some days I'm performing post-mortem examinations (autopsies) in the morgue, other days I'm teaching at the university, testifying as an expert witness in courts of law, working on various research projects, and growing into my role as the First Nations Liaison at the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service. I use my powers of observation every day, coupled with some very high tech medical devices such as the CT scanner, MRI and a full Molecular Lab. Every day, I have to make decisions that can have real consequences; for example, if I uncover a concealed homicide, chances are someone is going to jail. I have to be absolutely sure of my knowledge and my decisions to protect the public.

My scientific background allows me to objectively analyse all the facts around each case and make my decision regarding the cause of death. I work with other forensic pathologists, forensic anthropologists, odontologists and entomologists, pathology assistants, forensic services technicians, radiology technicians, police, lawyers and many other health care professionals. I need to interact with each of them and tap in to their special knowledge base in order to do my job. As far as other languages go, well - medicine is a language all on its own!

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people’s lives?

Although my patients are dead, what I find can be very relevant to the living. This means answers for grieving families, the public, and the legal system. Also, with the emerging molecular autopsy, new genetic conditions which are discovered at autopsy can provide very important information for surviving family members and actually save lives.

What motivates you in your career?

Every day is different. Every day I learn something new. Learning about death is challenging, and fascinating. Being the first person to discover how someone died when nobody else could, is extremely rewarding. Passing on this knowledge to the next generation of physicians is a responsibility and an honour. Forensic Pathology in this country is in its infancy; there is so much to discover!

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I thought I would become a research scientist when I was in high school. My grades were good, and I was very hands-on - I was encouraged to apply to medical school. It's a long haul, I spent 10 years in medical school, residency and fellowship to finally land a real job. Throughout this decade, I had wonderful mentors and teachers who I trusted to guide me. Even so, it was not easy. Many times I didn't think I'd be able to finish the overnight on-call shift, let alone years of training. It feels like climbing a never-ending mountain sometimes, but one step at a time, you will reach the top. The view is breathtaking.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I'm think I'm fairly boring outside work (my career is beyond fascinating). I have my 2nd degree black belt in Karate, I love going for a run, and I'm an amateur chef. I do volunteer a lot of my time mentoring students and being involved in my community.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

Don't be afraid to talk to people, reach out to those who are in positions you are aiming for. Think about where you want to be in 5 years, or 10. Those years will pass, use them well!

Let's Talk Science recognizes and thanks Kona Williams for her contribution to Canada 2067.

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