From October 8-10th this year, ASCP members met at the Tampa Bay Convention Center. The convention center overlooks the picturesque calm waters where the Hillsborough River drains into Tampa Bay, waters which are alight at night with city lights and reflections from neon-lit bridges. Opposite the convention center stands the imposing figure of Tampa General Hospital, the metropolitan area hospital at which the University of South Florida residents undergo portions of their training.
Inside, the atmosphere was quiet and relaxing on the first day. Pathologists, cytotechnologists, laboratory professionals, residents, fellows, and others mulled about, some sipping coffee and catching up on news, others hurrying to get to one of the many available lectures or seminars.
Some lectures were star-studded, others from lesser-known speakers, but they were outstanding overall in subject and quality. Dr. Richard DeMay’s lecture on cytopathology was a real treat; he interjected humor and humility into his lecture, a remarkable feature for someone with an internationally renowned series of books under his belt. It was fascinating to watch him speak, with his keen blue eyes and wavy brown hair, with a single shock of white at the front. His demeanor was poised but colloquial, brilliant but accessible. I had the pleasure of shaking his hand after and thanking him for his contributions to the field, but others were more prescient; attendees lined up afterward to get their books signed and have photos taken.
Some of the more popular lectures had standing room only, although arriving 10-15 minutes prior to the start guaranteed a seat. Pathologists – old and young – stood up against walls or sat on the floor, fumbling with beverages and notepads, to hear about Head and Neck Surgical Pathology and Medical Liver Pathology. Yet other lectures had to be missed; I regret not being able to attend what I heard was a high quality lecture given by Steven Marionneaux, MS, MT(ASCP) on the topic of platelet counts and their impact on transfusion protocols.
The resident review courses, designed for pathology residents for the purpose of board review, were well done also. They were narrower in focus than many of the other lectures, but cut into the meat of their subjects. For the fourth-year residents who attended, no doubt the reviews served as a free complement to the Osler Review courses, which began on the Sunday in Tampa following the convention.
By Thursday, the posters and exhibits were up, and the exhibit hall (Science Connections Central) was bustling with activity. Presenters from all over the country (and some international) with varied backgrounds were there, with posters on everything from laboratory media for HPV testing to the utility of peripheral blood examinations of myelodysplastic syndromes.
The exhibits were the standard fare, with laboratory hardware vendors, molecular testing services, and booksellers all present. My favorite, after meandering for some time, was the Pathology Outlines booth with Dr. Nat Pernick. He was gracious enough to share his impetus for founding his company, which was to eliminate the need to carry books when he went from site to site doing PRN work in the Northeast, He was also gracious enough to give me an autograph. I had learned my lesson from the previous day.
After rounds of lectures, and a boisterous Lab Management University graduation ceremony, ASCP 2014 began to wind down. The Friday lectures grew more sparsely attended throughout the day, but many stayed for the ending awards ceremony.
On Friday evening, at the cusp of dusk, drinks and hors d’ouvres were served, and sharply dressed laboratory professionals watched as ASCP President Dr. Steven Kroft thanked everyone for coming, and the poster awards were handed out. The international award recipient gave an excellent improvisational speech, telling the assembly that he was honored to be studying in the United States, and that he looked forward to becoming “stronger together,” a nod to the ASCP’s newly minted motto. Yet my favorite award recipient was Dr. Kun Jiang of Moffitt Cancer Center, one of my attending physicians and in my considered opinion one of the most talented pathologists in the country. With his characteristic humility, he gave no speech and hurried off the stage too quickly to be photographed, but we were glad to see recognition of his hard work and talent. He was the recipient of much hand-shaking and back-slapping when he returned to his table.
Dusk came over the bay, but the convention was not yet over. Residents were invited to a classy meet-and-greet reception at Jackson’s Bistro, an upscale restaurant just a short walk away. Dr. Kroft appeared again to remind the residents that we are the future of pathology, and to inspire us to embrace the legacy we were being left with. Dr. Rebecca Johnson was there also, and it was interesting talking to her. I learned that the pathology board exams are not scaled with a Gaussian distribution, with the necessity of a certain number of exam failures, but are structured using a standards-based approach. This ensures that minimal criteria are met, and failure is not essential to the examination model. So, theoretically, everyone can pass on the first time. That knowledge was perhaps as inspirational as Dr. Kroft’s parting words.
The music popped on and residents mingled with residents, students, attendings, and a few others who showed up. It was a lively and convivial atmosphere with swimming lights, laughter, and good times. Smiling faces abounded as a room full of stressed and overworked people took at least one night out of the year to live a little. They also exchanged stories and news, cards and numbers. It was one of those moments of being caught up in l’esprit de temps, not as part of a country or a movement, but as part of a select group of people who have dedicated their lives to the accurate diagnosis of disease. We are a truly unique group in these modern times, caught between the legendary accomplishments of our forebears and a growing world of scientific modernity. I looked over the water for a moment, over the orange and white dots and the neon streaks, and I wondered, what will our future be?
-Michael Markow, MD is a third-year resident at the University of South Florida, Tampa, FL