Fellowship Choices…Choices…Choices…

So, I’m almost halfway through my PGY-2 and starting to think more seriously about what fellowship to apply for next year. According to the ASCP 2012 Fellowship and Job Market Survey, 69% of residents surveyed decided on their choice of fellowship during their PGY-3 year while only 18% decided during PGY-2. Coming from a heavy research background, I always knew I would do at least a fellowship in molecular pathology and genetics – and I totally enjoyed and rocked my molecular pathology rotation. So that told me that at least I was thinking in the right direction.

But even though I often thought about pursuing CP only, I could never commit to it for fear of not getting a job once I was done training. It was even suggested to me to change my application to CP only by an interviewer at one of the top CP programs when I interviewed for residency and even then could not fully commit. My PGY-1 RISE scores also would support that I am more CP oriented since I either scored near or greater than the PGY-4 average in most CP subjects.

But now, I’m glad I decided to go AP/CP and to wait on that decision until the end of my PGY-1. It was then and at the start of my PGY-2 that I was assigned 3 consecutive months of hematopathology. And for 2.5 of the 4 weeks of my time at the VA, my attending was on vacation so I got more autonomy and had to meet those expectations or I’d be in serious trouble. Sink or swim time. But it was a good experience and made me think about combining a hematopathology fellowship with the intended molecular pathology. Hematopathology was only peripherally on my radar coming into residency even though I enjoyed the hematopathology I did during my hematology rotation at the NIH during medical school. I actually had entered residency thinking I’d do a second fellowship in clinical microbiology and a portion of my MPH concentrated on infectious disease diagnostics, surveillance, and epidemiology in addition to molecular epidemiology.

But I was fortunate during my hematopathology rotations. Sometimes, it takes the perfect storm of unexpected experiences and mentors to really change your perspective, to see something that was always there but not so obvious…at least, not until you’re ready to see it. I didn’t realize before, even though I had done a month of hematopathology previously, that it paired so well with my interests in molecular pathology. Currently, I’m still mulling over the idea in my mind but only in terms of how some personal aspects of my life will affect my abilities to perform in certain settings. And unfortunately, these things may end up dictating my choices more than I’d like. But for now, I’ve put off the final decision to early 2014 and feel a little more breathing room because my journey has become a little bit clearer.

So, did you have a “light bulb” moment or a special person who helped you decide on a choice of fellowship? Let me know in the comments section.

-Betty Chung

Internationally Thankful

Settling into November, fall is “in the air” and in the United States we all start to think about most everyone’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to many places both for work, for volunteering, and for pleasure—and I always come home “thankful” for the people I’ve met.

Relationships with people are what matter most to a consultant. And over many years I’ve enjoyed reinforcing my belief that people are the same everywhere—our differences are so small compared to our similarities. We all laugh, we cry, we share with friends, we want the best for our families, we celebrate life and mourn death, we strive to do meaningful and challenging work that makes a difference, we seek to understand life and have moments of personal reflection when we look in the mirror. The fact that we do it in a myriad of languages, wearing different clothing, eating different foods and honoring different holidays and beliefs, coping with different weather and available resources are all just part of the platform.

A feast in any country, any language, any culture is a celebration, a way to say “welcome—come and share—you are friend and family”. Celebrating our holiday of Thanksgiving, it is very easy for me to say “thanks for what international work gives” to all of us! I’d be happy to share some “feast favorites” with you, just send me an email at bsumwalt@pacbell.net . But the real treat is the smiles!

Blog 10 Celebrating with the Batwa
Celebrating with the Batwa

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My good friend Matthew in Namibia

Cheers,
Beverly Sumwalt

Red Tape

I like debates so I’m going to start one and I hope people will comment below and get a dialogue going. How many pieces of paper do you have framed on your wall in the lab from regulatory bodies? If you are a reference lab that serves nationwide customers you may be putting up regulatory wallpaper! I have heard of more and more inspections in regards to laboratories.. My laboratory is inspected by CLIA, CAP, and AABB. With budgetary constraints the importance of the AABB certification has been discussed numerous times. I even feel myself that AABB is becoming more of a consulting company that publishes medically relevant treatment recommendations than an inspection body. I would like to see consolidation between CAP and AABB where the somewhat higher standards of AABB are adopted by CAP and laboratories would not have to pay separate fees for each.

Let’s take it a step further. If CLIA inspections are increasing are there rising tensions between them and CAP? What is making CLIA step up? Do they not trust the job that CAP is doing performing inspections of the laboratories? If CLIA inspections are becoming that difficult what do you as a manager/supervisor put your efforts toward to ensure you will be compliant no matter who inspects you? How does a laboratory go through 3 or more inspections a year and still stay on top of everything else? All these questions must be answered and quickly if you expect to have time to do what is required of you as a manager/supervisor. I don’t think too many laboratorians would care who inspects them, but I do think we would care about having one universal checklist that we can abide by and really dig in to what is important to keep the lab accurate and safe.

How are we expected to grow our business and serve our patients when we are constantly guessing on what checklist to abide by or who is coming to inspect us? We are consolidating in every other sector of healthcare to improve efficiency except in regulatory bodies. Is this just another consequence of big government or do we actually need them all? We should start the discussion and make our voices heard on what we feel we need from regulatory bodies to ensure we are doing our jobs as laboratorians. Are you as frustrated as I am? Or have I inadvertently started my career as a lobbyist for the laboratory field?  Comment below.

-Matthew Herasuta

On the Lab Medicine Website

We’ve posted some great features over the last few weeks. A sampling:

-How do NASA scientists test analyzers to see if they’re capable of accurate analysis aboard the International Space Station? This article discusses the process, as does this podcast by the lead author.

-If you’re curious about the effects of brown recluse spider bites, this paper and this video will tell you everything you need to know, including laboratory considerations.

-Middle East Respiratory Syndrome hasn’t reared its ugly head in the States yet, but with international travel it’s just a matter of time before it does. Check out our resource page so you can be prepared.

 

What Are Better Ways to Learn and Retain New Pathology Concepts?

So, I’m curious…how are pathology concepts taught in your program and are these methods effective? We use multiple modalities in my program. We have mandatory core curriculum didactics three mornings each week, 2 days of AP and 1 day of CP. Additionally, we also have either cytology (lecture or multi-headed session) or hematopathology interdisciplinary conference on alternating Fridays. On some Tuesdays, we have invited guest lecturers for grand rounds. During PGY-1 while on our “intro to SP” rotations, we had additional histology, gross organ, and subspecialty didactics.

And even though, we have 4 sites, those who cannot be at the main site for lecture, teleconference in to the core lectures. So, our mornings are pretty full and it almost feels like we’re still in medical school during our clinical years with needing to balance service work with didactics. This year, they’ve tried to make the curriculum more interactive with more pre-assigned virtual slides or reading, occasional pre- and post-didactic quizzes, and a case-based rather than lecture-based structure.

And this is before all the tumor boards, morbidity and mortality, interdisciplinary specialty conferences, journal club, conferences, and CP call conferences that we make presentations that require prior research. So, sometimes, I’m amazed that in the midst of all this, that we can fit in all our service duties. We also make consistent use of our slide scanner – to create virtual re-cut sets for study, prepare presentations, and put together educational modules (at least our attendings do for this last one). And I didn’t realize until I met other residents at conferences, that heavy use of virtual slides isn’t the norm everywhere so I feel fortunate. And of course, there is sign-out (and sometimes, grossing) with the attending and learning from our fellows.

So in terms of the aforementioned, I expect that many programs teach utilizing a similar mix of modalities. But how do you learn on your own personal time? I’ve never been a student who would win an award for lecture attendance but since our “core” is mandatory, I attend most despite the fact that I don’t learn best in this way. I’m not a big textbook reader either – I have a decent number of books but can’t say I’ve finished any entirely. Having been graduate school trained initially, I’m much more of a journal article reader, which for me, as a CP-inclined resident, works well when I’m on CP rotations where I tend to excel more than I do on AP.

But what is the best way to learn on AP rotations? As an artist, I like pictures and there are some good websites (and even textbooks out there). But most days, I come home too tired to retain anything even if I could read more than for the pre-assignment for our “core”. I have to admit…I have not figured out that secret yet and would love to hear your thoughts. How best do we learn and retain pathology concepts?

-Betty Chung

 

Never a Dull Moment

As an international laboratory consultant, there is never a dull moment.  One minute you are working with energized people from another country engaged in spirited dialogue, learning and sharing experiences—and the next you are up very late with your team colleagues in a smoke-filled hotel lounge with multiple computers plugged into walls trying to capture information into an assessment template not designed for the technically challenged.  It’s better than Sudoku for mental exercise!

I recall one trip where the biggest challenge was keeping our notes and information straight.  We were scheduled to visit two laboratories on the same day; small but relatively full service labs, so there was much to review, discuss and digest in order to understand their capability and progress.  Some people can type notes into a laptop, but I find that a pencil and paper are the most useful tools. Working with people, making eye contact and facilitating interactive discussion provides a backdrop for what you are able to observe.  After a walk-through and overview, questions and comments, log reviews and notations it is imperative to elaborate on your notes and add comments immediately after an assessment visit.  Believe me, after 6 laboratories in 4 days covering >1000 miles, they can very easily “all run together” if you are not careful and diligent.  Laboratorians  tend to be overly organized and a bit obsessive about documenting things—it’s the nature of the beast, since we live our career lives in data production and information dissemination—and it has to be correct, all the time, for every patient. I smile as I remember many nights on that trip with my ASCP colleague Wendy, plugged into the wall in a deserted hotel lobby and barely able to see the computer screens as we compared and contrasted assessment scores late into the night before getting up before dawn to take off and do it all over again.  Well, it was all in a day’s work!  She and I will both admit to wishing we’d had a little more sleep, and we would also tell you we wouldn’t have missed it!

So if you find yourself up late at night studying, preparing for a presentation, catching up on journals or even waiting for a teenager to get home at the appointed hour, I recommend keeping a hot cup of tea and some local chocolate near at hand.  I can highly recommend chocolate from Kazakhstan, and also from Namibia— contact me at bsumwalt@pacbell.net and I’ll send you the name of my favorite brands.  But even if you can’t read the label, the pictures are all you really need!

Blog 9 Working Late

 

Cheers,
Beverly Sumwalt

Pain Management Drug Testing

Traditionally, urine drug testing has looked for the presence of drugs that should not be there. You are hoping for a completely negative drug test. Because tests for measuring drugs in urine haven’t always been incredibly accurate at the low end of the measurement range, and interferences from other compounds can cause false positives and negatives, back in the early 1990s the Department of Health and Human Services provided cut-off concentrations for abused drugs that gave the best discrimination between samples that actually contain those compounds and those that don’t. What that means today is that if the concentration of the drug in the sample is higher than the cut-off, that sample is positive for the tested drug. If the concentration is less than the cut-off, the test is negative, whether there is actually any drug present or not.

How is pain management drug testing different? When testing urine samples for drugs for pain management, you are looking for the presence of drugs that SHOULD be there. In essence, you’re hoping for a positive drug test. Controlling pain with medication is a massive industry, but to keep prescribing those drugs, the physician needs proof that the patient is actually taking the medication and not diverting it for sale or use by someone else. Thus pain management drug testing looks for the presence of the specific drug and may actually require a quantitative result rather than a simple positive/negative.

In addition, although the assays used for both types of drug testing may be the same (mass spectrometry or immunoassay), traditional urine drug testing often only includes drugs in the major classes of drugs of abuse. Pain management drug testing must also include specific drugs prescribed therapeutically for pain, like methadone and oxycodone. Thus point-of-care (POC) devices for drugs of abuse drug testing may not be adequate for pain management drug testing.

Here is a list of drugs usually included in POC testing panels:

Drugs of Abuse
Amphetamines
Opiates
Cocaine
Benzodiazepines
Tetrahydrocannabinoids
Barbiturates
Phencyclidine

Pain Management Testing

Amphetamines
Opiates
Cocaine
Benzodiazepines
Tetrahydrocannabinoids
Barbiturates
Phencyclidine
Oxycodone
Methadone
Propoxyphene

-Patti Jones