Engage Yourself to Transform Our Profession

It’s never too early to be an engaged pathologist-in-training. This means that we must understand our past and have a strong vision of the future we hope to shape. We must evaluate the forces that have influenced the role and perception of our profession within society, what we did or didn’t do in the past that has led us to our current status, and not only what things we would like to change but also to what do we want to change them.

Since I have an advocacy and organizing background, I may look at our profession a little differently than other residents. First, we are a small profession. The majority of medical students do not choose to become pathologists. But I believe that may be due to at least in part, to a lack of commitment to nurture our pipeline. There is no national medical student organization for those who are interested in learning more about pathology as a profession, and often the little exposure that medical students do get is not an accurate representation of what they would do during residency and ultimately, in the working world.

It’s never too early to be an engaged pathologist-in-training. This means that we must understand our past and have a strong vision of the future we hope to shape.

Secondly, we are still more discohesive (and I’m not talking about a lymphoma here) than we should be as a profession. This may partly be due to the diverse nature of our profession where AP and CP are all considered pathology. In many Asian or European countries, pathology residents must choose one track or the other; they, more times than not, do not have the option for combined AP/CP. So does this confuse or hurt us to educate our future pathologists in this manner where allegiances are often diluted? I say no, not directly. But since we do have so many subspecialties, and consequently, subspecialty organizations, many residents and pathologists who are limited in terms of time and energy have to choose and prioritize which organization to devote their efforts. Even though we have ASCP and CAP as more all-encompassing organizations, we could still have stronger solidarity and more frequent interactions between these groups.

Thirdly, from my n=1 (level 3 evidence which isn’t always worth much), most residents and attendings I see have very little interest or experience in political advocacy even though this may be the greatest avenue we have for palpable change. I have seen some committed to curricular reform. I have also seen some who promote the profession by serving on hospital and program committees as well as leadership in state and national societies. But what I don’t see much of are those who keep track of what is going on in DC and within society that affects our profession and who attempt to do something to change what they perceive as negative. We need to change our culture and encourage and train our residents to get involved early in such activities.

And last, but not least, we need to own our value as physicians. We must not allow anyone to treat as us less than a physician from another specialty. And practice makes perfect–we as residents should start early by serving on organizational committees, etc. I will be doing my part this weekend serving on the CAP Council on Education (COE). I’ll let you know how that goes.

As an aside, creating an organization to educate medical students about pathology is a pet project of mine. If you’re interested in helping to start such an organization where we can also serve as mentors to pathology residents-to-be, please feel free to email me at bchung73@uic.edu.

Chung

Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a second year resident physician at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago, IL.

Classified

“I retweeted an Instagram picture someone posted on their Facebook page that shows how to place blood tubes in a centrifuge. There is also a vine of it on their LinkedIn profile.” Confused yet? I’m a millennial, more commonly known as generation Y, and if there is a social network out there people my age are either on it or bored with it already. The question that keeps coming up is where do the social networks fit in to professional life? Perhaps the bigger question is can you be yourself while maintaining a professional persona? Most large organizations have social media policies that prohibit their employees from speaking badly about them on social media sites. Some policies also allow a company to terminate someone if the person lists them as their employer and does or posts something that the employer feels isn’t up to their standards.

The reality is if you are on these sites and you list your employer you must be careful. If people ask my advice on social media I usually tell them to stay as ghosts, and don’t list your employer. In my personal situation I don’t even have my real last name on my Facebook account plus it is private and even if you knew what my name was you couldn’t search it. Now, I really have nothing to hide seeing as I have over 1000 friends on my Facebook account but I not only want to control what goes out but more importantly who sees it. My feelings are, keep your personal life personal and your professional life exactly that.

Some may find it surprising that a young person isn’t posting every aspect of their life but I just feel that my organization doesn’t need to know what I have for dinner after I leave for the day. It is really each individual’s choice on what they want to follow or add but it just seems to me that it is a little to easy to become emotional about something and next thing you know it’s out there for all to see. It is pretty much a daily occurrence that some celebrity has to apologize for something that is taken out of context and the same goes for everyone else. When you tweet out that you can’t stand your boss, smiley face; you may not be around to explain the sarcastic nature of the post.

As a supervisor, I would never recommend being friends with people you lead unless you understand and realize that everything you post will be fair game in the workplace. I think a lot of people either forget that or simply don’t understand the significance of social media until it’s too late. Just because something happens outside of the organization, if one of your coworkers sees it you can bet that it will find its way back to the workplace. This is the personal aspect of social media and if your organization requires you to have a public account as a leader to be available for comment and questions nothing says you can’t have two accounts. Have a public profile and a personal one that you can set to private. When people ask me at work if I have any social media accounts I just tell them that information is classified.

Herasuta

Matthew Herasuta, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM is a medical laboratory scientist who works as a generalist and serves as the Blood Bank and General Supervisor for the regional Euclid Hospital in Cleveland, OH.

 

Another Passport Story, Part 1–A Bit of Horsing Around

On a recent trip to Kyrgyzstan, I had a wonderful time with an interactive training for laboratory pre-analytical procedures and specimen transport with key laboratory leaders. Our sessions were designed to give them a full picture of the challenges and opportunities ahead as they build stronger laboratory systems. The two week stay started with arrival in Bishkek, the capital city, on Easter Sunday morning. (Actually, it was the middle of the night!) It was still dark when we checked into the hotel and we took hot coffee to the hotel rooftop for an “Easter Sunrise”. I cherish sunrises all over the world, and taking a solitary moment to watch the sun move slowly through the haze over the distant mountains and bring the city to life was very special.

Sessions covered two weeks and in between we had a weekend to explore and see a bit of Kyrgyzstan. It was suggested we take an overnight into the mountains, which were covered in snow even in late spring, to enjoy their favorite “resort and spa.” A little relaxation and sightseeing in the mountains sounded excellent….we headed off with our ever-protective and accommodating driver.

One of the treats offered at the resort was a horseback ride along the dirt road into the mountains. Some of you may know I have horses and love to ride, so this was a natural attraction and I immediately signed up for a ride and a guide. They showed up with three of the tallest, skinniest, poorly-tacked horses I think I’ve ever seen and I secretly wondered how these ponies ever survived the tundra temperatures! But the ever tough “Cossack horses” are suited for it and much faster and well-adapted than our overly-coddled pleasure horses, so I quit frowning and clambered on. My mount was too tall and had a cock-eyed saddle, and I’m certain he could feel a bit of nervous body language. Riding takes your full attention and I wanted free use of both hands, and also a safe place for identification and tip money. So I put my passport, tip money, and the hotel phone number and cell phone in my jeans pockets. Safety first! However, this turned out to not be as safe as I thought …

Next time….the rest of the story!

 

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Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.

Procalcitonin: Sepsis Marker Extraordinaire?

Sepsis is one of the most common causes of significant morbidity and mortality in hospitalized patients as well as the most common cause of death in ICU patients.  In addition, the earlier sepsis is identified and treated, the better the prognosis for the patient. We actually do not have a biochemical marker which can be used to effectively diagnose sepsis. Sepsis diagnosis depends on finding microbial infection by culture, and while PCR methods do exist to quickly identify bacteremia, in most institutions cultures take at least 24 hours to grow.  To aid in the diagnosis, clinicians can check three biomarkers commonly considered “sepsis” markers: C-reactive protein (CRP), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and procalcitonin (PCT).

Despite being very different tests, these three assays are ultimately indicators of inflammation or the inflammatory response. ESR is a simple manual test that measures how far red cells sediment out of a blood sample in one hour. It is used as a marker of inflammation but is quite unspecific; several conditions can cause inflammation. The ESR can tell a clinician that inflammation exists but not the cause of that inflammation CRP is an acute phase reactant protein. Its production by the liver increases in acute inflammation. However, its levels will be affected by liver dysfunction. PCT is a pro-hormone produced by extra-thyroidal immune cells within 2-4 hours of a bacterial insult or an inflammatory response.

Deciding whether a biomarker is a good indicator of sepsis is made difficult by its complex pathology. Studies that show one marker performs better are contradicted by other studies that show it does not. The utility of PCT for predicting sepsis remains controversial for this reason. However PCT has shown to be useful for predicting prognosis in sepsis. Increasing PCT concentrations correlate with increasing severity and a poor prognosis. Decreasing or low concentrations indicate a good prognosis. PCT is also being used to guide antibiotic therapy, although this use should be limited to non-surgical/trauma ICU patients, which is where the studies have been done. Thus although PCT proponents consider it to be the best available biomarker indicator of sepsis, none of the three tests have been shown to be good at diagnosing sepsis. Unfortunately, all three of these biomarkers are indicative of an inflammatory response and not specific for sepsis itself. However, once sepsis is known, all three biomarkers can be used to monitor its progression and response to therapy.

If you’d like to read more about PCT and sepsis, you can do so here:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000666.htm

http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/sepsis-septicemia-blood-infection

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/720621_1

https://www.aacc.org/members/nacb/NACBBlog/lists/posts/post.aspx?ID=16#

 

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-Patti Jones PhD, DABCC, FACB, is the Clinical Director of the Chemistry and Metabolic Disease Laboratories at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, TX and a Professor of Pathology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Hacking Pathology Residency Training

As we celebrate the Christmas season and gear up for 2014, I’ve been thinking about resolutions and things in my life that warrant change. And since I was able to go home this year for Christmas break, I’ve had some time to do something that I enjoy but haven’t been able to do in a while – watch TED videos. I recently watched this one given by a 13-year old about hackschooling at TedxUniversity of Nevada. Makes me wish I had done some when I was younger (my first aspiration was to be an artist) but of course, I was raised in a traditional Asian household that revered education and practicality (“you can do drawing as a hobby but you should be a doctor”). Don’t get me wrong, I do not blame my parents and now at this point in my life, it is my choices that will determine my future and happiness.

And so I’ve been thinking about my education, both personally and professionally. In terms of nurturing my creative side, I realize that I need to set aside some “me time” where I engage in my previous interests (though probably not during PGY-2). And for my social justice/service side, I know that I will eventually return to my community activities when I can consistently have time to give, although I still watch from the sidelines and contribute when I can. But in terms of my chosen profession, I often wonder if there is a way to “hack” our residency training to make it both more creative and effective and to be proactive rather than reactive?

Tying together some themes I have previously blogged about (competency evaluation and transforming our profession), I’d like to address some issues I see. Pathologists need to be more engaged, both within the system and within society or be left behind. With healthcare reform, gone will be the days when a physician can continue to practice the way s/he was trained – there will be a constant drive for life-long learning, both in terms of knowledge and utilization of new technologies, especially disruptive or exponential ones, than is present currently. I’m not going to argue for or against the finer points of the ACA or the recent cuts in pathology codes in the new physician fee schedule except to say that the landscape we residents will inherit will be vastly different than the one our attendings, or even we, now currently train.

But competency needs to be more than a checklist. We need to learn how to navigate and show our worth within the value-based systems where we will most likely work. First, of course, we need to learn our material well. We cannot interpret data, educate non-pathologists, or advocate for specific decisions if this foundation is lacking. But how do we residents take ownership and accomplish this in addition to the training we may or may not receive in our residencies? And how do we learn to be a patient advocate rather than just a reporter of results?

I will leave you these questions to ponder until my next blog where I will elaborate on some of my observations and ideas on this topic. For those of you who attended Eric Topol’s keynote at CAP ’13, I will leave you with similar talk by Dr. Daniel Kraft given at TedxMaastrict about 2.5 years earlier – http://www.ted.com/playlists/23/the_future_of_medicine.html– and hopefully, it’ll spark some ideas.

I hope everyone has a prosperous year in 2014!

 

Chung

Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a second year resident physician at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago, IL.

Happy New Year—Making 2014 a Year to Remember

If you are one who likes to make a resolution for the New Year, let’s have a look at the word “resolve”:

re·solve:

verb:  settle or find a solution to (a problem, dispute, or conflict); to sort out, solve, deal with, rectify;  to decide firmly on a course of action; determine, decide, make up one’s mind, make a decision
noun: resolve, resolution; determination to do something, strength or decisive commitment

Or, another way to define it might be, “re – solve”.  Laboratory professionals are trained and skilled at solving problems, particularly analytical ones; why not “resolve” to “re – solve” something? Perhaps this is your year to make a commitment to giving back to your profession, your faith, your future. Consider volunteering, either at your laboratory, your hospital or clinic, your community, or perhaps even globally. There is no end to the list of opportunities for service, using skills and training to add value to improving health. If you want some ideas, just contact me at bsumwalt@pacbell.net and I’d be very happy to explore the idea with you!

This is one of my favorite quotes—let’s make 2014 a Year to Remember!

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  ~Anne Frank

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Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.