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Is the Pathologist an Endangered Species? Helping Pathology to Continually Evolve will Secure its Future

In this chapter, Dr. Tiffany M. Graham addresses this vital question, exploring ways in which new trainees can learn about opportunities in pathology, and how education can be improved – both at an undergraduate level but also with ‘on the job’ life-long learning. Dr. Graham explores opportunities to attract and retain pathologists by investing in the exciting changes taking place in molecular pathology, digital pathology, and artificial intelligence, and discusses the use of social media and the web for online education and standardized learning. Along the way, Dr. Graham debunks common myths and misconceptions about pathology, and explores how greater exposure of trainees at every level to practicing pathologists can help address some of the key challenges facing the pathology workforce.

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“By 2030, a deficit of 5,700 pathologists is predicted across the US.4 In the UK, a quarter of all pathologists is aged 55 years or older.5 Not having enough pathologists risks delays to diagnosis, and both patients and clinicians have reported such dissatisfaction with prolonged turnaround times. 6,7 In cancer, every day matters in terms of patient outcomes. Additionally, the demand for pathology services is increasing: the number of people who develop cancer grew by approximately 25% over the last decade in the US, with around 1.8 million people diagnosed in 2019.8,9 Due to expanded testing and treatment options, each new cancer diagnosis has become more complex. In addition, the pathologist’s role is widening to include screening, diagnosis and treatment guidance. It is not difficult to see that all of this adds up to a challenge for pathologists, who risk being overburdened with work, putting them at risk of making errors or career burnout, which can be costly in terms of finances and, most importantly, patient outcomes.”

4 Robboy SJ, Gupta S, Crawford JM, et al. The pathologist workforce in the United States II: an interactive modeling tool for analyzing future qualitative and quantitative staffing demands for services. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2015;139(11):1413–1430.

5 Royal College of Pathologists. Meeting Pathology Demand. Histopathology Workforce Census. London, UK: Royal College of Pathologists. 2018.

6 Molina K. Pathologist shortage in Outaouais has patients waiting months for biopsy results. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/biopsy-backlog-outaouais-region-1.4353979 Posted 13 Oct 2017. Accessed 11 March 2020.

7 Ford E. Pathologists shortage ‘delaying cancer diagnosis’. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-45497014 Posted 16 Sept 2018. Accessed 11 March 2020.

8 National Cancer Institute. Cancer Stat Facts. Common Cancer Sites. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/common.html. Accessed 11 March 2020.

9 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Expected new cancer cases and deaths in 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/articles/cancer_2020.htm. Accessed 11 March 2020.

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Is the pathologist an endangered species

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About the presenter

Gastrointestinal and Hepatobiliary/Surgical Pathology Clinical Instructor, The Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA.

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