In 2016, Pritt won an Early Achievement
Award from the UVM Medical Alumni
Association, recognizing physicians early
in their careers for outstanding academic
contributions through community or
“In the field of microbiology, Bobbi is a
rock star,” says Bruce MacPherson, M.D.’67,
UVM professor emeritus of pathology and
laboratory medicine, citing the words of one
of Pritt’s fellow pathology residents at UVM.
“Bobbi is a great example of somebody
who finds a field that really excites her, and
she’s been wildly successful in that field as a
result,” says MacPherson, who mentored Pritt
Pritt, though, did not follow a smooth
and steady path into and through
medical school. She took several
She grew up in West Enosburg Falls, Vt.,
in a rural landscape close to Canada. She
played outdoors and showed an early hint
of her inclination toward creepy creatures
when, at age 4, she found a nest of baby
milk snakes and stuffed them into the front
pocket of her hooded sweatshirt. Her father
swatted them away.
She was a good student, she says, but
never a “science geek.” Pritt was artsy. She
liked to paint in watercolors and pastels but
didn’t like the idea of a job in graphic design.
When she was 14, Pritt’s father got a new
job and moved the family to the suburbs
of Albany, N.Y. He was an electrician, and
Pritt’s mother was a secretary who worked
her way up to the position of office manager.
Neither went to college. They didn’t know
how to guide her, and career counseling was
nonexistent in schools back then, Pritt says,
so she had to figure things out on her own.
After high school, she enrolled at Hudson
Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. She
changed her major 10 times and ended up
with two associate’s degrees: in business administration; and in math and science.
Resurrecting a longtime interest in
biology, she continued as a biology major at
the State University of New York at Geneseo,
with a minor in anthropology. Then, with her
bachelor’s degree in hand, Pritt saw only two
options: medical school or a doctorate.
She feared academia would force her into
too narrow a focus of study, Pritt says. She
wanted to look at the big picture and put her
knowledge to use.
She applied to 11 medical schools and interviewed
at seven. She was drawn to Burlington,
even though she had almost no sleep before
her interview there; she had just finished a
night shift as a pathology lab technician at a
hospital in Albany, where she also worked a
second job as an administrative assistant.
“University of Vermont, for me, really
stood out as being such an open, friendly
school,” she says. “When I went there, I loved
the atmosphere. It just seemed so inviting.”
Even so, Pritt struggled with doubts.
One day, during her surgical rotation in her
second year, she suddenly froze with the
retractor in hand, then walked out. She took
two months off but, after returning, decided
to withdraw from medical school. It was only
later, Pritt says she came to understand she
suffered from depression and got treatment.
For two years, she re-evaluated. She
worked as an administrative assistant in
UVM’s sociology department and took a
variety of classes for free as an employee.
Most important, she says, she spent time
doing “informational interviews” with
anyone who had a job that intrigued her,
including a nutritionist and the state
For those roles she liked, she concluded,
“I’d have a lot more opportunities if I had my
UVM allowed her to re-apply and accepted
her back. She says she was grateful for the
second chance. “That was the total gamechanger,”
Pritt says. “I had finally done my
research and spoken to enough people that
I got really good information, and I had the
focus of what I wanted to do.”
Today, Pritt speaks frequently to students
about their career plans, not only while
teaching but serving as a mentor to dozens of
students. She will readily answer questions
about her work and encourages students to
explore a range of jobs by talking to those
For her residency in pathology, Pritt
matched to UVM. Pathology crossed all
areas of medicine, giving her that big
picture. It wouldn’t involve much direct
contact with patients, but Pritt says she has
found as much reward in the educational
interaction with students.
“She stood out as an incredible, kind
person, and someone who just wanted to
learn and wanted to be innovative and move
things along,” says Pam Gibson, M.D.’89,
associate professor of pathology and
laboratory medicine at UVM.
Those qualities make for a good
pathologist, Gibson adds. “You’ve got to be
able to love that inquiry, that questioning,
and then want to share.”
Influenced by now-deceased UVM
professor Washington Winn, M.D., Pritt was
especially drawn to microbiology, the study
of all things infectious: bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.
From her residency, Pritt went to Mayo
Clinic for a one-year fellowship in clinical
microbiology. As she looked for her first
job, Mayo made her a hard-to-resist offer:
Go to the London School of Hygiene and
Tropical Medicine to get a master’s degree in
parasitology, then return to Minnesota to run
So Pritt, who had just gotten married,
moved with her husband to London to
pursue this uncommon specialty at one of
the world’s premier programs on the subject.
There, she gained a global perspective, not
only on parasites found elsewhere in the
world — such as guinea worm — but also on
the need to understand cultural differences in
communities where these infections flourish.
Even after becoming enmeshed in medicine,
Pritt has found artistic outlets—
many of them related to her work.
Gibson remembers Pritt identifying
the herringbone pattern seen in certain
tumors and creating photo montages of cell
formations to help residents identify them.
MacPherson once went to dinner with his
wife at Daily Planet, a downtown Burlington
eatery, and noticed an exhibition of Pritt’s abstract-looking photographs, which only a
pathologist would recognize as stained cell
and tissue samples.
Pritt is now working on a parasite coloring
book. While traveling, she noticed adult
coloring books in the airport and enjoyed
filling in the designs.
She thought to herself, “Instead of this
beautiful field of flowers, what if it was a field
of flowers with ticks on it? Or instead of a
tunnel, you’re looking up an intestine, like
your colon, and there’s worms hanging off
the inside of it?” she says. “There’s an ‘eww’
factor but it also could be educational and
kind of fun.”
The coloring book illustrates Pritt’s artistic
nature and, even more, her never-ending
effort to inspire and teach, to turn others on
to her fascination with parasites. That’s not
to say she likes them outside the lab.
“I find them scientifically fascinating,
but I hate mosquitos and ticks,” she says. “I
Scientists need to work together to prevent
the illnesses those bugs carry, Pritt says. So
the more she can discover, the more she can
collaborate, the more she can convey through
art or other means, the better off the world
Story by Carolyn Shapiro