ASCP 2014 at Tampa provided the perfect getaway for a New Yorker forced to wear fleece early October. The same attire seemed to be mocking me the moment I stepped out of the Tampa International Airport on Wednesday night. It was a pleasant surprise and I gleefully tucked it right into my suitcase.
At the hotel, I took a quick glance at the lecture schedule. Having already missed the first day, I was eager to extract the best out of the next two days. I was thrilled to see an array of topics specially aimed at residents. Also, many lectures focusing on novel or state-of-the-art techniques, including molecular methods, virtual microscopy, digital pathology, informatics, etc. It seemed to me like “The future beckons!!” Being a hard-core morphologist, it was a tough call for me, as I would have to forego a host of other good lectures. But I decided to focus on the resident review courses and ancillary techniques.
Keeping with my agenda, I set the ball rolling on day two by attending the lecture on “Automating Anatomic Pathology.” It was an eye opener for me, dealing with the scope and future of automation in anatomic pathology lab. “Anatomic Pathologist’s Role in Patient Safety” was the next. Dr. Silverman cited studies revealing that soft tissue lesions, with an error rate of 20-30%, led the list of organ specific error rates. He deliberated on the importance of second opinions in error reduction. He aptly concluded his lecture with the remark, “the pathologist is the Final Quality Assurance Officer or ‘the buck stops here.’” It was a huge wake up call for me.
I moved on to my first lecture on Molecular Pathology, “Welcome to the Beginning: Molecular Pathology for the General Pathologist and Molecular Pathologist.” It was just the right one for me and helped me firm up basic concepts. In the evening I attended “Molecular Diagnostic Methods in Oncology: an update on practical aspects.” Dr. Larissa Furtado and Dr. Yue Wang from University of Chicago were simply brilliant in elucidating the role of molecular techniques in oncologic practice. The prior morning session, helped me understand the deliberations in this talk much better.
I made it a point to attend most of the Resident Review courses. Though my Board Exams are two years away, I took it as a perfect platform to acquaint myself with the “hot” topics. I spent almost the entirety of day three attending the courses. A packed audience was testimony to these sessions’ popularity. Most of the speakers were brilliant. The case based presentations followed by an interactive voting format helped keep us all fully involved. However, the lab administration and last day hematology section could have been better.
In between, I found some time to listen to one of my all time favorites: Dr. Goldblum’s trademark lecture on soft tissue pathology. He quipped in his inimitable style “Don’t hunt for lipoblasts to diagnose a liposarcoma” and warned us of the vast plethora of “pseudolipoblasts” lurking around. Rather, he stressed the importance of analyzing the entire histology in the correct clinical context.
Let’s wander into the poster sessions! We had a total of twelve posters from our program itself, probably the largest representation from a single center. I had four posters and one of them was selected as a finalist in the Best Resident Poster section. It was an entirely new experience for me. However, I did some homework to prepare myself for the judging session. The judges on both the days were very pleasant and spent a significant amount of time discussing the work with me. It was disappointing not to get the award, though I knew the competition was tough.
The evening Mixology Lab was the perfect concluding session in the backdrop of the setting sun across the scenic Hillsborough river. There was delicious food and wine as Dr. Baloch announced the various poster award winners. It was special for me for another reason, as my very good friend Shree Sharma was one of the “top 5 under 40” award winners.
It would be so improper if there were all work and no play. Friday evening provided the perfect opportunity to explore the city. I went out with friends to the Ybor City, taking the streetcars, which surprisingly provided 50% discount to conference attendees. Ybor City was such a happening place, full of fun. While strolling along the 7th avenue, we took pictures with people celebrating Gasparilla festival, dressed as pirates. A glass of sangria at the historic Columbia Restaurant provided the perfect toast to end the day.
My trip was not to end here as I had already registered for the TRIG Genomic Pathology Workshop for Saturday. This was my first exposure to such a session in molecular technology. We were divided into small groups. In a case based approach, the workshop deliberated on teaching principles related to the development of genomic assays and result interpretation. There were four cases pertaining to single gene testing, prognostic gene panel testing, how to design a cancer gene panel and whole genome sequencing, respectively. Both Richard Haspel and Andrew Beck were simply brilliant and they took special care to approach each group separately and clarify their doubts. It was a highly stimulating experience for me and I learned a whole new facet of pathology. The utilization of online genomic pathology tools for result interpretation appealed to me. It also gave me the opportunity to work with fellow residents from other programs in a very close and interactive manner. Though the warm sun outside beckoned, I believe this was the perfect finale for three full days of extensive learning activities.
A trip to Tampa would be incomplete without a visit to the Florida Aquarium. I took a relaxed tour of the aquarium after the workshop, visiting the lovely marine friends. When I boarded the flight back to New York on Sunday afternoon, I felt very content. It was also reassuring to see that ASCP indeed cares about resident education and needs. The meeting opened my eyes towards the new horizons in pathology and how many options lie before us for shaping our careers.
-Rifat Mannan, MD is a second year Pathology resident at Mt Sinai St.-Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York.