Spread the word! We ❤ pathology!
Almost every pathologist I meet has the same excitement, enthusiasm, and optimism about pathology. But we don’t always share how we feel about the profession – and this passion is key to meeting some of the challenges we face.
When the Future of Pathology project team met at the Royal College of Pathologists in London, UK, we were thrilled that our meeting overlapped with a gathering of pathologists who were there for International Pathology Day. We were delighted to share our enthusiasm and optimistic outlook for our profession with them, and to propose a few key ideas we collectively felt to be critical to ensuring a bright future in pathology. Namely these included improving public perception and knowledge of pathology, enticing others to join the field, embracing digital pathology in clinical workflow and education, and emphasizing the importance of our role in molecular testing during this era of personalized medicine. We then armed the pathologists with pens and sticky notes and challenged them to brainstorm approaches they believed would help our specialty to overcome the challenges it faces.
A few hundred sticky notes later, I found one that particularly resonated with me. It read “show your passion!” For too long, we pathologists have not communicated, or been able to communicate, the enthusiasm we feel about our profession. It may be due to our isolation from other healthcare professionals that we have assumed no one else would be interested in what we do. Or possibly because we put all our efforts into communicating the detail of test results for individual cases, that we fail to paint the bigger picture about our specialty. Whatever the reason, it’s high time we shared our enthusiasm – not simply because we are proud of being pathologists, but because the future of our profession depends on showing our passion.
In the chapter I have written for the new Future of Pathology report, I ask how we can train a new pathology workforce and retain those currently in post. It’s an urgent question because we know there is a growing shortage of pathologists on the horizon.1 At the same time, demand for pathology services is increasing in response to the growing numbers of people with cancer and the complexity of cancer care.2,3 There is a whole range of possibilities for recruiting, training and retaining pathologists that I discuss in detail in the report. This blog is a sneak preview.
An obvious, but vital task is that we need to increase awareness among medical students that pathology is a specialty in its own right. While pathologists lecture medical students on the subject of pathology as a requirement for their medical training, it is prudent to emphasize the pathologist’s role in clinical care and management of a patient. It would serve our specialty well if we introduce pathology service rotation options for all trainees during clinical rotations so they can have first-hand experience of it, even if only for a week or two. Beyond targeting medical students, we must also extend our reach to include undergraduates and even high-school students so that they are able to make a conscious choice to pursue a career in pathology. After recruiting these new minds into our field, offering quality life-long learning to pathologists at all stages of their careers is fundamental. This will ensure their personal growth and provide rapid access to up-to-date care in our fast-moving and constantly evolving discipline.
We need enthusiasm to make these changes happen and we need to convey our passion for pathology to all our audiences too. If you’re reading my blog, perhaps you also know me on Twitter as @HeartPathology. It’s no small secret that I am devoted to my discipline and eager to share what I have learned. I have found that social media is a great channel for communicating my passion. There are many online channels we can use to provide information and training, both for would-be as well as for seasoned pathologists. Let’s not forget face-to-face meetings at university open days, in the lecture hall, or in the hospital setting. Imagine if we were able to share our enthusiasm for our specialty through all these different media and in all these different settings – what would that look like? Irresistible, I would say.
However, a passion for our specialty can’t only beat in the hearts of pathologists. I believe that if we enable our colleagues involved in cancer care, healthcare administrators, clinicians and teachers to feel the same enthusiasm we do for diagnostics – or even just a fraction of it – then we stand in the best position possible to build the strong pathology workforce of the future we so urgently need. We need the enthusiasm of healthcare administration, information technology and finance managers as we tackle practical questions about how to increase the number of pathology training posts, how we support trainees working a busy schedule in fitting in their studies, how we provide ongoing, quality-assured, accessible and relevant training to pathologists throughout their working lives.
Pathologists ♥ pathology. A positive attitude isn’t going to cut it by itself, but I firmly believe it is infectious, a great impetus to action, and it will go a long way in enabling us to secure the future of our discipline.
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1. Metter DM, Colgan TJ, Leung ST. Trends in the US and Canadian pathologist workforces from 2007 to 2017. JAMA Netw Open 2019;2(5):e194337.
2. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Expected new cancer cases and deaths in 2020. www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/articles/cancer_2020.htm Accessed 25 January 2020
3. Cancer Research UK. Testing times to come: an evaluation of pathology capacity across the UK. www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/testing_times_to_come_nov_16_cruk.pdf Accessed 14 January 2020.
This editorial is part of the Future of Pathology series sponsored by Leica Biosystems; it reflects the views of the authors, in their individual capacities.