Hematopathology Case Study: A 68 Year Old Man with Dyspnea on Exertion

Case History

A 68 year old male with no significant past medical history who enjoys long distance cycling presented to an outside emergency department with dyspnea on exertion. Laboratory values at the outside facility showed profound anemia (Hb 10 g/dL) and physical exam revealed lymph adenopathy. The patient was discharged but presented again to his primary care physician with profound dyspnea on exertion, especially after climbing one flight of stairs. Of note, his anemia had worsened with a new Hb of 7 g/dL. For evaluation of the anemia, the patient had a Coomb’s test and it was positive, overall consistent with cold agglutinin disease. For evaluation of the lymphadenopathy, a CT abdomen and chest revealed celiac, portocaval, mesenteric and retroperitoneal lymphadenopathy as well as mild splenomegaly. Due to these findings, the patient presented to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for further evaluation and biopsy of a retroperitoneal lymph node.

A core needle biopsy of a retroperitoneal lymph node was obtained per the recommendation of hematology/oncology.

Diagnosis

AITL-1
H&E, 10X
AITL-2
H&E, 20X
AITL-3
H&E, 50X
AITL-4
CD3
AITL-5
CD20
AITL-6
CD10
AITL-7
CD4
AITL-8
CD7
AITL-9
CD21
AITL-10
Ki-67
AITL-11
EBER ISH
AITL-12
PD1
AITL-13
CXCL13

The core needle biopsy material demonstrated a lymphoid population that was polymorphic in appearance with medium to large sized lymphocytes with moderate amounts of pale cytoplasm, irregular nuclei, vesicular chromatin, and some cells with prominent nucleoli. The background cellular population is composed of a mixed inflammatory component including small lymphocytes, scattered neutrophils, eosinophils, and histiocytes.

By immunohistochemistry, the medium to large sized cells with pale cytoplasm are positive for CD3, CD2, CD4, and CD5 with complete loss of CD7. CD20 highlights scattered background B-cells. CD21 is positive in disrupted follicular dendritic meshworks. CD10 and BCL6 are negative in neoplastic cells. PD1 is positive in neoplastic cells with a subset co-expressing CXCL13. By Ki-67 immunostaining, the proliferation index is 50-70%. By in situ hybridization for Epstein-Barr virus encoded RNA, a subset of cells are positive.

Overall, with the morphologic and immunophenotypic features present, the diagnosis is that of angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma.

Discussion

Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL) is one of the most common types of peripheral T-cell lymphoma and accounts for 15-20% of T-cell lymphoproliferative disorders and 1-2% of all non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Clinical features include presentation with late stage disease with associated generalized lymphadenopathy, hepatosplenomegaly, systemic symptoms, and polyclonal hypergammaglobulinemia. Of note, this patient did have an SPEP that was within normal limits. Other findings, although less common, include effusions and arthritis. Laboratory findings often include cold agglutinins with hemolytic anemias, a positive rheumatoid factor (RF), and anti-smooth muscle antibodies. A hallmark of AITL is the expansion B-cells positive for EBV is seen, which may be an indicator of underlying immune dysfunction. The clinical course is often aggressive with a median survival of less than three years and often succumb to infectious etiologies because of an immune dysregulation.1

The pathogenesis and relation to other TFH neoplasms of PTCL, NOS is poorly understood. Recent literature indicates dysregulation in key pathways, including the CD28 and TCR-proximal signaling genes, NF-kappaB/NFAT pathway, PI3K pathway, MAPK pathway, and GTPases pathway.2 The complexity of these pathways has long been an issue for TFH lymphoproliferative disorders and has provided insight to potential molecular signatures (see figure 1 adapted from Vallois 2016).

AITL-14
Figure 1 from Vallois 2016

Another recent publication provided additional information regarding molecular insights. Confirmed mutational analyses reveals a high proportion of cases carry a TET2 mutation with less frequent changes in DNMT3A, IDH2, RHOA, and PLCG1. Specifically, RHOA, PLCG1, and TNFRSF21 encode proteins critical for T-cell biology and most likely promote differentiation and transformation into an aggressive clinical course (see figure 2 adapted from Wang 2017).3

AITL-15
Figure 2 adapted from Wang 2017

Overall, AITL is an uncommon TFH cell derived lymphoproliferative disorder characterized by a TFH immunophenotype, expanded and arborizing high endothelial venules, expansion of the follicular dendritic cell meshworks, and EBV positive B-cells in a background of a polymorphic infiltrate. Although it is hypothesized that the underlying mechanism of neoplasia is related to immune dysfunction, new molecular insights have demonstrated that multiple events occur ranging from early molecular changes to later acquired mutations that allow for malignant transformation.

References

  1. Swerdlow, S., et al., WHO Classification of Tumours of Haematopoietic and Lymphoid Tissues, 4th. ed., IARC press: 2008
  2. Vallois, D., et al. “Activating mutations in genes related to TCR signaling in angioimmunoblastic and other follicular helper T-cell-derived lymphomas,” 2016; 128(11): 1490-1502.
  3. Wang, M., et al., “Angioimmunoblastic T cell lymphoma: novel molecular insights by mutation profiling,” 2017; 8(11): 17763-17770.

 

 

PhillipBlogPic-small

-Phillip Michaels, MD is a board certified anatomic and clinical pathologist who is a current hematopathology fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. His research interests include molecular profiling of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma as well as pathology resident education, especially in hematopathology and molecular genetic pathology.

Serotypes and Stereotypes: the Path to Pathology

Hello and welcome back! After a hiatus for the holidays, I’m now back at school and gearing up to write about more Arbovirus-related public health endeavors. But, with projects on hold until now, I’m going to briefly depart the world of mosquito source reduction and epidemiology to discuss something that relates to my experiences in medical school. If you read my Lablogatory bio, you’ll see I spent a number of years studying and working in some of Chicago’s great clinical laboratories. In the past decade, I’ve been very close to the field of pathology and laboratory medicine. As I reach the “half-way” mark in medical school now, I have become increasingly aware of the way people across healthcare professions and specialties view laboratory clinicians. One thing that stands out strikingly is, what I argue, a potential stereotype.

Let me tell you one of my pet peeves. As a medical student, I am fortunate enough to learn and work under the guiding hands of physicians, nurses, and other educators. I work my hardest to learn how to provide the best care possible as I learn the skills needed for my future practice. In debriefing from a simulation, a good performance might spark conversation which culminates to the paramount question: “Have you thought about a specialty?” My heart set on it for a while, I often remark “Pathology” before I correct myself to “Clinical Pathology” since I’ve learned to curtail jokes about autopsies. (Disclosure: autopsies are a very important part of medicine, and the number of autopsies have experienced an unfortunate downward trend.)

As a result of my AP/CP answer, many people are often surprised, citing that I’ve been “great with the patient(s).” So that begs the question: why does my current answer surprise people? And more importantly, what perpetuates the stereotype of an introverted, microscope jockey who doesn’t want to be near patients? Yes, hyperbole, but I’ll come back to this stereotype.

While I was stateside visiting family, I coordinated some clinical shadow time with a colleague and alumnus of my medical school in her pathology residency at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). I spent time rounding with their teams in derm-path, watching sign-outs for endless cases, and getting up close and personal with autopsy training with another pathology resident. Each interaction with the faculty and staff were familiar and expected—full of enthusiasm and passion about their respective field of research or clinical work. What struck me as special, however, was that I was neither questioned for my motives in seeking pathology as a specialty, nor did I surprise anyone by being social and amicable. Everyone was quite sociable and proud of their work. My interactions were limited to the anatomic and clinical pathology departments so I suspect there may have been some bias. When I was a medical laboratory science student, I recall working with other disciplines, and, though I may have been in a nascent time in school to notice any stereotypes, they became clearer as I progressed through various jobs across the city. Large trauma centers, small community hospitals, even a shadow stint at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, all taught me valuable lessons on varied scope and different professional perspectives. And all the while, people seemed surprised I would be interested in such a misunderstood specialty.

On Lablogatory, I’ve enjoyed just about every post and one of my favorites is a series by Dr. Lori Racsa, “Lonely Life of a Clinical Pathologist.” Dr. Racsa discussed things about laboratory medicine I had observed in my time as a medical laboratory scientist: the critical role of pathologists on committees, the value of built-in mentorships, the [aforementioned] mystery about the particularities of the job to clinicians and laypeople alike, and the value of technologists like myself! One of the most poignant posts she wrote addressed the potential for a clinical pathologist to round with other “floor” clinicians. That was something I thought I’d dreamed up in my ambition to go to medical school, blazing a trail in Path where I could put some cracks in that stereotype. Dr. Racsa cited a great article from Critical Values by Dr. H. Cliff Sullivan where he recommended pathologists become more actively involved with fellow clinicians to directly improve patient outcomes. Having freshly attended several events at the ASCP National Meeting in Long Beach just prior to his article, I rode a wave of his “rally call” for changing the face and accessibility of pathology as a specialty. I saw myself in both his and Dr. Racsa’s stories of interdisciplinary teams, rounds, and committees and I’ve been excited ever since.

Back to that stereotype. Those articles about pathologists’ roles in medicine reflect a distinct lack of visibility to fellow colleagues. While we all recognize that nearly 100% of cancers are lab-dependent diagnoses and 70% of patient records are tied to diagnostic laboratory data, why are nearly half the residency spots for Pathology in the US National Resident Matching Program unfilled for the past few years? According to recent surveys by the American Medical Association, Pathology has one of the lowest relative rates of physician burn-out compared to other specialties. Pathologists are earning within 15% of the average physician income, with one of the highest relative satisfaction scores to match. So with lifestyle and career quality reporting positive values, I would argue that the seeming lack of interest stems from the possible lack of exposure of pathology as a dynamic field. The stereotype I’ve been talking about might also be one of attrition—“out of sight, out of mind.” Some great pieces of work on Lablogatory focus on promoting the value of laboratory medicine as an integral part of any patient’s care. Just recently, Dr. Sarah Riley discussed CO poisoning and public health, while her bio calls for “bringing the lab out of the basement and into the forefront of global health.” I feel close to that cause myself, hopefully made evident in my previous posts. Stay tuned for next month’s where I’ll be discussing the next steps in our public health project on Sint Maarten. After celebrating a successful 2016 effort presented by the Ministry to the Global Health Securities Agenda, our team has a number of projects lined up to demonstrate effective integration of lab medicine, epidemiology/public health, and social outreach.

A friend and mentor once told me to keep a completely open mind about my medical career and let whatever specialty fits best “find me,” so to speak. I couldn’t have asked for more sound advice. I’ll admit I have my biases and comfort zones, and for now that’s what they’ll remain. In this post, I had hoped to shine some light on the disparities in career reputation between pathology versus other disciplines. Is the stereotype founded in any truths I may have missed? Don’t pathologists have the social tact to work up and down the ladder, working with lab assistants to government health officials? Have you ever been challenged for your career choices in pathology? What reasons do you think contribute to the stereotypes I mentioned? What words can you offer students like me just starting to find a foothold in their newfound careers in medicine?

Leave your comments below! Thanks!

 

ckanakisheadshot_small

Constantine E. Kanakis MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BS in Molecular Biology and Bioethics and then Rush University with an MS in Medical Laboratory Science. He is currently a medical student at the American University of the Caribbean and actively involved with local public health.

Microbiology Case Study: 47 Year Old Woman with History of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Case history

A 47-year old woman with a past medical history of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and liver cirrhosis of unknown etiology was admitted to the hospital for back pain and new onset neurological symptoms. She soon developed pancytopenia and study of her peripheral blood smear showed evidence of thrombotic microangiopathy. ADAMTS-13 inhibitor was negative ruling out thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). She then developed multiple thrombi, including a nonocclusive thrombus in the superior mesenteric vein with extension to the splenic vein as well as a femoral deep vein thrombosis. Her hospital course then became complicated by lupus cerebritis, a small ischemic focus in the left corona radiata and the left medial midbrain, and decompensated liver failure with hepatic encephalopathy. Despite intensive medical treatment, she became hypoxic and hypotensive requiring pressors, and expired in the ICU after several months of hospitalization. The autopsy was performed based on the relative’s request to better understand pathological processes that lead to patient’s demise. The flowing images were obtained from the brain at autopsy (Image 1).

toxo1
Light microscopy of H&E-stained sections of the hippocampus reveal encysted Toxoplasma bradyzoites as well as extracellular Toxoplasma tachyzoites in the CA1 region, suggestive of a subacute focal infection.

Discussion

Toxoplasmosis is considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States. More than 60 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness.

People typically become infected with Toxoplasma by contaminated food or animal-to human routes of transmission. Toxoplasmosis is not passed from person-to-person, except in instances of mother-to-child (congenital) transmission and blood transfusion or organ transplantation.

Persons with compromised immune systems may experience severe symptoms if they are infected with Toxoplasma while immune suppressed. Persons who acquire HIV infection and were not infected previously with Toxoplasma are more likely to develop a severe primary infection. The diagnosis of toxoplasmosis is typically made by serologic testing. A test that measures immunoglobulin G (IgG) is used to determine if a person has been infected. If it is necessary to try to estimate the time of infection, which is of particular importance for pregnant women, a test which measures immunoglobulin M (IgM) is also used along with other tests such as an avidity test. Due to the high rate of falsely positive Toxoplasma IgM testing, the FDA advises physicians testing pregnant women not to rely on the results of any one positive IgM test as the sole determinant for diagnosis of acute Toxoplasma infection.

Diagnosis can be made by direct observation of the parasite in stained tissue sections, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), or other biopsy material. These techniques are used less frequently because of the difficulty of obtaining these specimens. Molecular techniques that can detect the parasite’s DNA in the amniotic fluid can be useful in cases of possible congenital transmission.

Clinical correlation

The case patient was at risk for developing toxoplasmosis due to SLE disease, and chronic immunosuppressive therapy that she was receiving for the aggressive course of her illness. However, most likely Toxoplasma gondii organisms seen in the brain parenchyma were in a dormant state due to lack of associated inflammation or architectural distortion. Her neurological decline is most likely related to thrombotic microangiopathy. Opportunistic infection is common in patients with SLE. In some patients, it is difficult to distinguish between the effect of infection and exacerbation of SLE because both can produce similar symptoms. There have been many reports of toxoplasmosis in SLE patients, with conditions such as cerebritis and pericarditis mimicking SLE manifestations.

References
1) http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/

2) Seta N, Shimizu T, Nawata M et al. A possible novel mechanism of opportunistic infection in systemic lupus erythematosus, based on a case of toxoplasmic encephalopathy. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2002;41(9):1072-3.

3) Zamir D, Amar M et al. Toxoplasma infection in systemic lupus erythematosus mimicking lupus cerebritis. Mayo Clin Proc. 1999; 74(6):575-8.

 

Contributors

Written by Anastasia Drobysheva, MD, 2nd year Anatomic and Clinical Pathology resident, UT Southwestern Medical Center

Image provided by Bret Evers, MD, PhD, Neuropathology fellow, UT Southwestern Medical Center

 

-Erin McElvania TeKippe, Ph.D., D(ABMM), is the Director of Clinical Microbiology at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas Texas and an Assistant Professor of Pathology and Pediatrics at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Show Us Some Skin

Which epidermal layer is indicated by the arrow?

  • A. Stratum corneum
  • B. Stratum germinativum
  • C. Stratum granulosum
  • D. Stratum lucidum
  • E. Stratum spinosum

Skin1

 

The answer is E, stratum spinosum. The stratum spinosum, also known as the prickle cell layer of the skin, is often several cell layers deep, and is located immediately above the stratum germinativum. Cells in this layer are polygonal, and are connected to each other by numerous desmosomes. During fixation, the cell membrane retracts around desmosomal contact points, giving the cells a prickly appearance. The cells contain many bundles of intermediate filaments as well as keratinosomes, which are membrane-bound granules thought to deposit a “toughening” layer on the surface of the cell membrane.

Skin2

 

The stratum germinativum (also known as the basal layer) is composed of a single layer of cells adjacent of the basal lamina. The cells are tall cuboidal or columnar, and are connected to the basement membrane by hemidesmosomes, and to other cells by desmosomes. Cells in the basal layer are mitotically active, and contain numerous polyribosomes and intermediate filaments.

Skin3

 

The stratum granulosum is 3 to 5 cell layers thick, and is composed of flattened, polygonal cells arranged with the long axis parallel to the basement membrane. The cytoplasm of these cells contains numerous basophilic granules, called keratohyalin granules, which are thought to be keratin precursors.

The stratum lucidum is not truly a distinct layer of skin, but rather a staining artifact. It is visible in some sections of thick skin as a glassy-appearing, eosinophilic artifact at the bottom of the stratum corneum. It is not present in this particular image of epidermis.

Skin4

 

The stratum corneum is the outermost layer of skin. The thickness of this layer varies considerably from region to region in the body. The cells of this layer are dead, flattened, and fused together, with completely keratinized cytoplasm.

Skin5

 

Krafts

-Kristine Krafts, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Pathology at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and School of Dentistry and the founder of the educational website Pathology Student.

Chief Resident Advice to Junior Residents

I haven’t been able to blog as much of late. It’s been a busy year with more than its fair share above the usual crises that a chief resident is expected to handle – an “August year” for me as my program director put it. But I’ve learned a lot and have been lucky to have the support of my attendings, program coordinator, and program director to help. Even when we’ve not always agreed on what is best for our residents, I’ve always been allowed to speak up for our residents and felt as if our concerns were heard and acknowledged even if policies didn’t go our way. I think that’s the biggest strength of a smaller program–the ability to form strong relationships with mutual respect, whether it is with one’s mentors, peers, or hopefully, both–and I know we will cheer each other on when we hear of each other’s accomplishments in the future even if we won’t see each other daily as we do now because of those bonds we built during these past couple of years. The lessons I’ve learned regarding “soft skills” have been equally as important as the knowledge I’ve gained about my favorite lymphomas or molecular mutations. And four years is really shorter than one might think to fit in all we need to as AP/CP pathology residents, so see it for the gift it is–protected time to grow into the physician you want to be. I see the fruits of these lessons more clearly now as I prepare to graduate. Much of it was obtained through mentorship, formal and informal, from those more experienced and with my best interests at heart.

So here are some pearls I’d like to hand down:

  1. Know thyself as early as possible: Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses so that you can build on the one while working on the other. As we have now signed on to be life-long learners, identify what works for you early or adjust those learning habits which might have worked before but are no longer working. Designate a couple of hours on a weekend day every week to do learning above and beyond what is expected for your current rotation and consistently stick to it. If you can, designating an hour everyday would be even better and it doesn’t have to be hard core studying like our med school days—you can leisurely read a review article, watch TedMed videos, casually look over boards materials or qbanks from day 1, and so forth as long as you do set aside time consistently. Take advantage of experiential opportunities to help decide early where you see yourself as a physician (academics, private practice, commercial lab, subspecialty, etc) in the future so that you can plan as early as possible your rotations, electives, opportunities, and networking with that goal in mind. But most importantly, knowing who you are, what you believe in, how you work best, and what you want and knowing early, will help you plan and see opportunities earlier. But always, be true to yourself.
  1. Time management is key: Learning to plan early and efficiently is a skill and it takes time to learn. Honestly, I’m not the best on a daily basis unless I take time ahead of time to plan my day, which I don’t always do, but plan to be better about during fellowship. But I do know how to plan effectively to juggle multiple long-term projects with deadlines at a time. You will constantly hear about time management – whether on rotation evaluations or during fellowship interviews. I find that those who are very good at time management, all have checklists and planners (whether hard copy or digital) so maybe they’re on to something there. Whatever works for you, being a deliberate planner ahead of time will serve you well.
  1. Be proactive: In some way, we’ve all be conditioned in a passive learning style where those who are more experienced hand down information to us which we are expected to regurgitate or ruminate on and respond. During residency, we don’t have the strict structure we are used to from medical school as we may be only given loose guidelines but are expected to figure out how best to manage our time on our own. We no longer have every hour planned out for us and so the quicker you learn to plan ahead and effectively use your time while at work, the more time you’ll have for personal activities. Don’t just do the minimum but use gaps in your time during the day to study, to build relationships with mentors with whom to work on book chapters, abstract submissions (for posters/platform presentations at conferences), and publications, to attend conferences/tumor boards outside your rotation even in non-pathology departments, to work with others outside of pathology on interdisciplinary projects. In some ways, these activities are networking without our even realizing it. For the rest of our lives, we will constantly be judged and compared to others by our character and work ethic and that often will include tangible items on our CV whether this is fair or not. Challenge yourself on every rotation by trying to do as much as a junior attending would within the limits of what you are allowed to do and not just the minimum.
  1. Get involved in advocacy: Participate in leadership positions at an organized level–within our professional organizations, with interdisciplinary teams within your hospital, or with volunteer organizations in your community. Bringing about change takes time but if done with a positive goal in mind, can have such a rewarding impact on those we wish to serve as well as yourself. You might discover a previously unknown passion or skill you possess that you can share. Before residency, I was heavily involved with on-the-ground, upstream-minded health equity efforts in immigrant and minority communities. And while I took a hiatus from my work due to residency training, I know that as a future public health pathologist-scientist with both public health and research training, I will return to working to change those systemic and institutionalized societal structures that maintain health inequity within those communities. So it’s now your time to find your passion and to give back. Pay it forward for every good gesture someone has shown you.
  1. Build relationships with mentors: Since I’ve been involved with organized medicine, I’ve always heard the word “networking”. Too me, it always seemed somewhat a Machiavellian “ends justify the means” insincere word but I guess that’s all up to interpretation. What I prefer to say is focus on finding colleagues with whom you share values and passions, who you respect and would like to emulate, and with whom in the future, you might want to collaborate. If your premise is sincere, opportunities always unexpectedly follow has been my experience.
  1. Step outside your comfort zone: As busy physicians-in-training who are used to structure and consistency, it’s good every once in a while to try something new. You never know what you may find–it may even turn out to be a new passion for you. Life is too short and you want to live it without regrets. You want to say when your time comes that you lived life to the fullest and maybe even tried some things that scared but surprisingly made you happy.
  1. Recharge with some “me” time: All work and no play can make any of us dull and cranky. Set aside time to spend with friends (especially non-physician friends) and family and do non-work related activities. Especially when life is getting you down, some time away from thinking about work may be the recharge you need.

 

Chung

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

The Value of Electives (Both Internal and External) During Pathology Residency

It’s been a while since my last blog. I haven’t had as much time and energy as I would like this past year. For now, I’ll just say…appreciate all that your chief residents do because much more time and effort lies beneath the surface than everyone is able to see.

But the topic for this blog is the value of electives during pathology residency. Our programs vary with respect to electives in terms of number and ability to take them externally or not. My previous program had five electives that could be taken internally or externally. However, external electives did not receive salary support and I didn’t take any electives although I could’ve during my two years in Chicago. Since we had a decent number of electives, many residents scheduled them internally during fourth year to have lighter months to study for boards although a handful did utilize them during earlier years for external electives.

My current program has two and we do receive salary support with external electives. For my first, I had an extra month of hematopathology internally because I wanted to see another perspective on one of my chosen subspecialties. Internal electives are good to spend more focused time in an area of subspecialty interest that you may have for fellowship. It also allows for the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with the faculty who will most likely be writing your letters of recommendation for that fellowship. They may also provide you with the opportunity to become more involved in research and/or publications (eg – book chapters, case reports, research articles) with a mentor and these are all helpful in enhancing your fellowship and future job applications and build up your CV.

Currently, I’m on an external elective at the institution where I’ll do both my hematopathology and molecular genetic fellowships. I’m laying the groundwork for molecular hematopathology research now that hopefully results in data analysis over the ensuing months to culminate in an abstract submission for the American Society of Hematology (ASH) which has a deadline only a month after I start fellowship. I also want to use this time away to get to know people at my future program better, prepare for my eventual move here, and study for boards. Hopefully, I’ll also get a sense of the daily work flow as I am also attending signouts and intra- and interdepartmental conferences so that I can manage my time as efficiently as I can from day 1 of fellowship. I really like the culture and people here, but that’s subject matter for a future blog. I also am enjoying the benefits of attending inter-program activities as TMC is the largest medical center in the world with active interaction and collaboration between member hospitals. Not so much in my case since I obtained both my consecutive fellowships last year as a PGY-3, but for many, the value of an early external elective is that it can be seen it as an “audition” rotation to obtain a desired fellowship. You may even be able to ask for an interview before you finish (which saves you time and money). I also have some friends who were offered fellowship spots at the end of their elective rotation because they impressed the fellowship director. Obtaining fellowship positions is pretty competitive and there tends to be fewer spots than there are for residency. And in many cases, positions are not even available if an internal candidate is chosen early (even during their PGY-1) so anything to augment your fellowship application is a plus.

Now that I’ve mentioned external electives, I’d like to give some advice on setting up an external elective. First, start as EARLY as possible! Even a year or more before isn’t too early to ask about getting the ball rolling. Start preparing and updating your CV from your PGY-1 as you’ll need this for both external elective and fellowship applications. Scan and keep a PDF of all your vaccinations and work-related health requirements (eg – PPD/Quantiferon results, flu vaccine, hepatitis B testing, MMR and hepatitis B antibody titers, and N-95 fit testing) as well because its likely you’ll also have to include this in your external elective application.

I initiated the elective rotation request about a half year prior to the actual rotation. And even then, that was not early enough and everything came down to the wire. It’s far more complicated than when we applied for elective rotations as a medical student and takes much more time. Since we are now physicians, you are more than likely required to have at least a medical permit in that state to rotate and this process can take a while. Also the back-and-forth between program coordinators and the respective GME departments can appear glacial at times, and in my case, was the main cause of delay. I hit several delays at obtaining paperwork (especially between Christmas and New Year’s when many staff were off at both programs, my medical school, and the Texas Medical Board where I needed paperwork from). It can be time-consuming to have to make multiple phone calls, and often, the process cannot be completed until its antecedent step has been approved. I know residents who have had to postpone external rotations because paperwork between GME departments (eg – PLAs or malpractice agreements) were not in place in time. Maintaining constant and open communication between all parties involved is a must and sometimes easier said than done the more people that are involved.

In addition to obtaining the state medical permit (which generally requires an application fee; in my case, $135), there may be other requirements that are also time-consuming and financially expensive. You may be required to do pre-employment-type health screening (in my case, a $36 urine drug screen) at your own cost as you are not a true employee. I also had to become ACLS certified (at $120, despite being BLS certified and a former American Red Cross CPR instructor). But since I’m going to be a fellow here, I can get it reimbursed through my GME funds and would have to do it later anyways so I might as well do it now. But if you are not doing an elective at your future fellowship institution, it’s good to find out what items may incur cost in your application for your elective since you are not likely to get reimbursed and so you can decide whether those expenses are acceptable. One way to defray costs is to apply for grants such as the ASCP subspecialty grant which is administered to six residents twice a year (Jan/Aug). In fact, the next deadline is this Friday, Jan 15th! You can find more information on how to apply at http://www.ascp.org/Residents/Resident-Grants.

 

Chung

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

The Importance of Time Management and Benefits Outside of Residency Training

So I was recently in beautiful Miami for the ASCP Leadership Forum as the resident representative on their Commission on Science, Technology, and Policy (CSTP). While I can’t talk about the specific details of our work, I’d like to take this time to elaborate on some benefits of working within organized medicine for residents and on the realizations that it has brought me concerning the importance of time management.

As residents, it’s difficult to see the “big picture” sometimes because residency training feels like a journey with multiple landmarks we must pass in order to reach a destination far into the future. But I’ve found that my work in organized medicine has always expanded my peripheral vision. In these roles, I have increased my exposure by meeting residents and attendings from other programs – I’ve been able to hear how training differs between their experiences and mine. And this provides me with a context in which to view both the strengths and weaknesses of my previous and current training. And as a chief resident, these experiences have provided me with invaluable insight that allows me to come up with creative solutions to improve both myself and my program. Of course, organized medicine also has provided me with a myriad of benefits from networking.

But participating in extracurricular activities, and in particular, organized medicine efforts as well as union efforts (as one of my hospital’s five CIR/SEIU delegates), takes a lot of time and as expected, time management. In terms of long term time management, I would say that the many leadership positions I have held have helped me to plan out tasks and to meet deadlines. And so as a first year resident, after my first three months or surgical pathology, I was surprised to see “needs to improve time management skills” on my evaluation. And even though I improved on subsequent rotations, I think it has taken me until now as a third year and as a chief to truly understand what that comment meant.

My time management is fine when planning long term goals and overseeing the tasks of those I supervise – skills I honed while participating in organized medicine for many years. But what my first evaluation as a resident was pointing out was that I had trouble initially managing my time in terms of my DAILY service duties (ie – very short term goals). Despite rotating in pathology as a medical student, as a neophyte first year, I didn’t truly understood the scope of what pathologists really did day in and day out, and more importantly, the workflow to achieve these goals. And each year, my skills have improved and shaped my outlook about what is required to be a good, patient and public health centered pathologist. But as a chief now, my view has again been further refined in this regard.

When I interviewed for fellowships, the #1 attribute that programs mentioned as important in a fellow was great time management skills. #2 was being a good team player. My yearly residency training and leadership roles in organized medicine have both hopefully nurtured those two desirable characteristics. But I guess we’ll see when I start my first fellowship in July 2016. Don’t forget to include in your planning time to relax, eat and exercise, sleep well, and set aside one day each weekend to do some casual training-related work such as reading on your current rotation topic.

Chung

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