Nichole Baker — a pathologist’s assistant, philanthropist and professional mountain biker —  ventures worldwide to grow global healthcare

At 19 years old, Nichole Baker’s childhood boyfriend, Steve, passed away from aggressive Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The loss inspired her to pursue a career in vascular surgery research at the University of Michigan — 40 miles east of Jackson, where she grew up — in 2007. In the following decade, Baker’s path evolved to her current role of pathologist’s assistant (PA) at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colorado. At the lab, Baker, now 34, examines tissue samples to determine patient diagnoses alongside the pathologist. 

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Baker with children who received Mpowerd and Luci lamps from her on the first bike tour she took through southwest Uganda in 2018.Nichole Baker

“It is inspirational to know I have a hand in diagnosing and treating someone similar to Steve,” Baker said. After finishing PA training in 2014, Baker dove into global pathology volunteer work in Haiti. She was disheartened by the experience. 

“I watched what can go wrong without appropriate sustainable research for pathology processes in developing countries,” Baker said. “I left Haiti feeling that pathology is a majorly underrepresented sector of medicine and wanted to help fill this void in ways that truly lead to sustainable practices, globally.”

Nichole Baker subsequently launched a nonprofit in 2016 to address those issues. Introducing, Path of Logic (POL): an organization that sheds light on the underrepresentation of the field of pathology in progressing nations and helps to provide sustainable healthcare operations. That same year, Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts General Hospital posted an ad requesting teaching volunteers for anatomic pathology at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital in western Uganda. Baker jumped at the opportunity to apply—and landed the position. Now, she uses most of her vacation time to jet at least once annually to Mbarara, where she helps advance the oncology sphere.

“For many maturing countries, pathology is on the back burner — or not even on the stove,” she said. “It’s important to secure a diagnosis before treatment. In Uganda, physicians were treating swollen lymph nodes for tuberculosis without a diagnosis, which is dangerous. Lymphadenopathies can also indicate a lymphoma or different type of infection.” 

Baker has volunteered in Kenya, too, but decided to commit to fostering her partnerships in Uganda, with a long-term vision of extensive, meaningful impact. 

Her effort is paying off.

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Baker reviewing control slides for an immunohistochemistry test at Mercy Regional Medical Center in 2018. Patrick Norris

Baker’s most recent two-week stint at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, earlier this year, resulted in the government’s first-ever electronic healthcare tracking system in Eastern Africa. During her stay, Baker recruited the help of a remote computer programmer in Belize to help her rapidly create a computer system that tracks cases and generates pathology reports including turnaround time. In the U.S., Baker’s colleagues deliver information to patients in three days. In Uganda, the process generally takes three weeks.

“For the first time, pathologists are able to track incidence of certain cancers, which will allow us to lobby to the government to support pathology programs,” Baker explained. “I believe it will shift the culture and how funds should be allocated.” 

Plus, any physician can use the system to perform an internal audit to identify how their processes can be improved.  

Beyond science, Baker connects with Ugandans by mountain biking between rural communities. Two-pedal transportation is amusing and non-threatening, challenges taboos about women riding bikes, and catalyzes friendly conversation. She started riding when Steve passed away, and her passion for the sport led the Yeti Cycles Ambassador to compete. 

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Nichole Baker on the 401 Trail in Crested Butte with friends visiting from Scotland. Ross Bell

Today, Baker prefers far-out explorations via dirt roads and primitive trail systems. Over the last few years, her route-creation and solo adventures have led her wheels across remote areas of Uganda, Scotland, and Northern India. This summer, she mapped out several multiday big-mileage, high-alpine routes in the San Juan Mountains with mandatory stream crossings and steep hike-a-bike segments — completely human-powered sans shuttles. The best part? Baker’s outdoor industry connections support her philanthropy. 

“The synergy that exists with POL was unexpected,” Baker said. “All the companies I work with were excited to help this charity work, though unrelated to cycling or environmental advocacy. It feels serendipitous.”

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On the day Baker began her bike ride through southwest Uganda earlier this year, the students at the Katunguru-Rubirizi primary school were all given lights to prepare for an upcoming examination to test into secondary school.Nichole Baker

Mpowerd, a company that creates collapsible, solar-powered lights, has donated several hundred lights for Nichole Baker to give away as she rides. Baker sells her lightly-used Yeti Cycles bikes to support POL. Patagonia, Osprey Packs, Tailwind Nutrition and others likewise donate to the annual POL fundraiser: last year, the amount reached $25,000. The 2020 POL fundraiser is yet to be announced. 

MORGAN TILTON writes about the outdoors with a focus in travel, industry news and human endurance. At the moment, she’s recovering from a remote jungle expedition — stay tuned for the upcoming story — and is stoked to mountain run, bike, SUP, or climb in the Elks and San Juans. She works with close to 50 publications.