Moving Forward One (Baby) Step at a Time

As this summer passes quickly by, I find myself, once again, anticipating the fall Annual Meeting of ASCP. Deadlines are fast approaching as I pull together my own power point presentation, review the schedule for sessions to moderate as well as those I wish to attend on my own time.

Many of you are involved in the planning process for the Annual Meeting and understand the deliberation and organization that this entails. The plethora of educational proposals is vast, submitted by numerous respected individuals and teams. Given the back-drop of this immense undertaking, I must say that I was thrilled this year to be a part of the discussion for the newly -created Hot Topics in Clinical Pathology. This has been a long-awaited moment for me and many of my cronies who have felt for quite a long time that the focus on Surgical Pathology at the Annual Meeting has essentially pushed aside the importance of Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine as a vital part of everyday pathology practice.

With the creation of the “Hot Topics” track, we at least begin to see a small, but significant move forward. Clinical Laboratory Scientists clearly identify their work and the laboratory as primary contributors to patient care. Pathologists should begin to embrace this concept more fervently. The fields of Microbiology, Coagulation, Hematology, Transfusion Medicine, Serology, Chemistry (and a multitude of other areas) are expanding rapidly and are the KEY to understanding, diagnosing, monitoring and treatment of disease. Our clinical laboratories support and enhance our Surgical Pathology practices as well and the sooner pathologists regain the interest and care for these areas within our expertise, the better off our patients will be (and yes…they are OUR patients too!)

Hats off to the Annual Meeting Planning Committee for taking this bold step (although a “baby” one) toward bringing Clinical Pathology back into the fold. I hope to see this agenda pushed forward and expanded, not just at the Annual Meeting, but also in our other educational offerings. We are, by the way, the American Society for Clinical Pathology!

Our clinical laboratories and clinical pathologists are not the departments or doctors of the lesser god! Hope to see you in Tampa, in attendance at the Hot Topics sessions!

 

Burns

-Dr. Burns was a private practice pathologist, and Medical Director for the Jewish Hospital Healthcare System in Louisville, KY. for 20 years. She has practiced both surgical and clinical pathology and has been an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Louisville. She is currently available for consulting in Patient Blood Management and Transfusion Medicine. You can reach her at cburnspbm@gmail.com.

Flexibility within Structure: Towards Competency-Based Clinical Pathology Training

Since I previously blogged about introductory surgical pathology training, I thought that I’d switch gears and focus this week’s post on introductory CP training. Based on my limited experiences during medical school rotations and at two different residency programs, I can say that developing a targeted CP curriculum (both introductory and more advanced) to train pathology residents can be difficult. Often many of the CP services can function without a resident so clinical laboratory scientists (CLSs) may be in a quandary as to what to do with residents when we are present.

I found that I’ve had the best and most educational experiences when I spent time at a CP lab bench with a CLS who likes to teach and does it well. Lab directors should either identify techs who excel at or train their CLSs how to teach. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The technologist has to not only complete their usual daily workload but at the same time break down the important and most clinically relevant parts of what they do to residents as well as to deliver all this information in an engaging manner.

Having a written syllabus with a logical flow of requirements that builds on previously learned concepts helps to provide structure for those who need it. The syllabus should include rotation objectives, important contact information, and topics and tests necessary to cover by rotation-end. But within CP, I see more of an opportunity for us to train in a competency-based manner at our own pace and toward our individual interests. For someone like me with extensive, hands-on lab and research experience, I need less (sometimes none) of my time spent learning how tests are set up (I basically told my attendings that it wouldn’t be useful for me to watch the CLSs pipetting; by reading up quickly on an unfamiliar permutation of a test based on a concept I already know, I usually can understand it as well). Also, since I learn more by doing, letting me act as a first consult for referring physician calls about test issues really accelerated my learning because if I didn’t know about the test/issue, you can bet I did by the time I called the physician back with a response. And I also learned that a good clinical work-up is key to good care but that applies in any area of pathology that we work in.

But I understand that not everyone has experience or comfort in the lab setting. At my current program, they do two months of an introductory ‘wet lab’ rotation during their first and second years. They have competency/credentialing checklists of tasks they must perform during these rotations. The first month is spent in chemistry, special chemistry, microbiology, hematology, and blood bank becoming acquainted with the staff as well as understanding the theory and performing hands-on applications and analysis of the repertoire of tests available in each section. This is not because we will be expected to do things like a Gram stain in the future but so we have some context to understand what we will be explaining often to referring physicians when they call about a particular test. I think it also helps us to understand the time frame of task completion to help explain when we do serve as the intermediary with referring physicians. And most importantly, you get friendly with technologists who honestly really will help you a lot. Being competency-based, I was allowed the flexibility to decide my competency level (ie – I skipped the ‘perform a Gram stain’ portion of my checklist because I already had done many of these in the past). The second month is spent in more specialized areas such as molecular diagnostics, cytogenetics, advanced microbiology, and special coagulation.

Telling residents to just ‘go sit at a bench with a tech’ is not all that useful, especially if the tech is busy or not interested in or good at teaching. That’s why it is so pivotal that medical directors identify technologists who can serve in this role or do in-service trainings so they understand how to participate in resident teaching. Also, telling residents to just ‘go read up on X’ is also not the most helpful because we learn more by actively doing than just passively reading. For residents in specialties with more patient contact, they have no choice but to participate in direct patient care. At times, it seems more difficult to remember to train pathology residents to feel that same urgency they would if they had the patient in front of them and also to train them in a manner that more actively engages them, but it’s possible. It just requires more effort and thought during the curriculum design phase.

Another thing that I like here at my current program is how during July they have separate orientations to each service regardless of the fact that the first years are on intro to SP and I’m on a hybrid intro to wet lab/comprehensive CP (chemistry and microbiology) rotation with some grossing time to learn the nuances of how grossing is done at this institution. We all have to attend these AP and CP orientation sessions that are geared toward preparing us for situations we will see on call – grossing late Friday prostates for the Saturday call person, how to accession and handle a frozen, transfusion reaction calls, and so on. First years also participate in supervised CP day call with an attending to learn how to handle specific situations so that they are pros by the time they have night/weekend/holiday call as a senior resident. Here, we cover both AP/CP call at the same time as senior residents.

So, how do they teach intro to CP at your institution? How do you think is the best way to train residents during introductory CP rotations? I would love to hear your opinions.

 

Chung

-Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a third year resident physician at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

USCAP Fueled Thoughts about AP and CP

I recently returned from sunny San Diego where I attended the CAP Residents Forum and USCAP. While at USCAP, I met more than my fair share of pathologists from Canada. After all, the “C” in USCAP stands for Canadian. I was surprised to learn that pathology residency there is 5 years–they still have a clinical “intern-like” year–and their residencies are either AP only or CP (referred to as “general pathology”) only programs.

In the US, most pathology subspecialties belong to one group or the other. The one exception is hematopathology which bridges AP and CP;in some programs is considered as AP and in others as CP. So I asked how they consider hematopathology in Canada. Most of those whom I met were AP trained and told me that in terms of hemepath, they only look at bone marrows (“tissue”). The peripherals and aspirates (“liquids”) are read by hem/onc and not likely to be relinquished to pathology as it is a good source of revenue for them.

When I told them that I was trained to read peripheral blood smears, aspirates, clots, and bone marrows, they told me that was because I was “CP trained” in terms of hemepath. They also told me that when they study hemepath in Canada, (I’m not sure if I misunderstood this part) that they aren’t really trained to diagnose lymphomas well. So they prefer to go to the US to train in hemepath fellowships to get the exposure and tend to hire US-trained hematopathologists. But I was also told that Canadian residencies are transforming and now beginning to incorporate more training in lymphoma diagnosis.

So, this brings me to some thoughts on AP and CP training. I was re-reading my most recent posts and realized that some recent frustrations I’ve experienced on my surgpath rotations accentuated my natural proclivities and bias. So, first, I’d like to say that I do not dislike surgpath. But I do think that the culture and some personalities in surgpath don’t really mesh well with a research-trained physician-scientist me. I often get the comment that I am “too academic” or I’m “more like a scientist than a pathologist” (which I didn’t think was a bad thing for a CP-oriented resident).We all have our biases and there is nothing wrong with that. But I often notice that the needs of the AP portions of our programs sometimes dominate over CP.

At multiple programs I rotated through during medical school and in my current program, if there is no autopsy resident that month, residents on CP rotations are assigned autopsy duty during the week while the surgpath residents cover the weekends and holidays. AP inclined residents and attendings often try to convince me that I never know if I’ll end up practicing surgpath. Even though residents often take vacations during CP rotations or spend most of their time studying for boards and not 100% actively engaging in their CP rotations, most of the time, CP attendings just expect this sort of attitude towards CP.

And so this tension between the two pathologies sometimes befuddles me. A co-resident even asked me if I’d consider doing a little surgpath with hemepath like the general pathologists at our community hospitals do(my answer is “probably not”)or I’ve gotten the “what are you going to do with molecular training?” question as well. This is not because there is anything wrong with surgpath (I know I might rant when I’m frustrated but I think knowing surgpath can only help me with my future career choices). But I wonder why when a first year resident comes in saying they want to do dermpath, they get hooked up to do derm/dermpath research (it’s important to match for dermpath fellowships) and I have people trying to convince me that I should want to do surgpath. Why does it seem harder to accept when a resident says that they want to do a CP subspecialty (maybe with the exception of hemepath)? Have you had experiences where a tension between the AP and CP sides of pathology reared its ugly head?Why do you think this may be so?

 

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.