I find that in interactions with other specialties, even attending physicians who far surpass me in age, that many have very little idea of what pathologists do. Those who do not work closely with pathologists are the first to mention CSI, forensics, autopsies, and an office in a windowless basement morgue. In fact, I recently heard the story that when a group of attendings and residents from another specialty along with their medical students were told to meet a pathologist for a teaching session in the anatomic pathology department…that they waited outside the locked morgue door before realizing that no one was there and that the morgue was not probably not the intended meeting location.
And for those who work more closely with pathologists, there exists a spectrum of attitudes and perceptions about our profession. We have surgeons who were trained “old school” style with six months of surgical pathology during residency who will sit at the multi-headed scope during intra-operative consultations and who know more than beginning junior residents. Hematology/oncology physicians often stop by hematopathology to look over slides together or to discuss a case. And then there are those who think that pathologists exist to provide them only with diagnoses and who do not look at us as equal members of the patient care team. I’ve heard some even question a diagnosis without ever seeing the slide and others grumble or joke that pathologists take too long to render diagnoses.
I’ve more than a few times had to call attendings, residents, or fellows to recommend canceling an inappropriately ordered test or less commonly, to suggest ordering an indicated one. I found that this more often occurs when there is not a strong differential of diagnoses. Even so, I still have the person on the other end of the line bellowing at me that they just MUST have this expensive molecular test ASAP.
Recently, a medical student who is interested in pathology told me that some residents from a non-pathology rotation harassed and made fun of this student for choosing pathology as their future career. I could continue with more examples but instead I ask this question, “Why is pathology as a field not valued?” especially with respect to specialties like surgery where there is a heavy reliance on pathologists to provide them with diagnoses?
I believe part of the reason lies in lack of exposure to the practical and daily aspects of pathology as a legitimate medical field during medical school. Furthermore, those who chose pathology as a career are often not personality types who proactively engage in promoting or advocating on behalf of the profession, especially at the state and federal levels. We also subconsciously contribute to this issue. For example, we often refer to all non-pathologists as “clinicians” as if there is a difference between these types of doctors and pathologists even though we all completed four years of medical school.
So, what are other reasons do you think contribute to the undervaluing of pathology as a profession, and more importantly, what can we do to change these stereotypes and misconceptions? Let me know by leaving a comment.