A Foot in the Door
Bringing pathology to my alma mater through the Pathology Outreach Program
Casey P. Schukow | | 3 min read | Opinion
I am a recent graduate of Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM). Before graduating from medical school, I grew up in Saline, Michigan, and graduated from Saline High School in 2013. After Saline, I attended Hillsdale College – also in Michigan – where I continued my football career and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry in 2018.
Last May, I had the privilege of presenting on pathology at my alma mater’s Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry class through an outreach program called the Pathology Outreach Program (POP). As a former AP Chemistry student, this opportunity to give back to a class that played a large role in my journey into science and medicine was a humbling and rewarding experience.
First, what is pathology? Simone Arvisais-Anhalt and Mariam Molani define it as “the medical discipline that provides diagnostic information to patients and clinicians (1).” Pathologists use a wide array of different testing and imaging modalities to obtain proper diagnoses that they can relay back to other doctors and members of the healthcare team. “For every subspecialty in medicine or surgery,” the authors write, “there is a pathologist counterpart, helping to make the correct diagnosis and guide the care of the patient (1).”
Currently, as documented by Raich in 2022 (2), there is a shortage of pathologists in the United States. This shortage was unfortunately foreseen by a 2013 article predicting that “beginning in 2015, the numbers of pathologists retiring will increase precipitously, and is anticipated to peak by 2021 (3).” Major reasons for this increasing shortage include an aging population of pathologists and inadequate formal pathology exposure among medical students. Furthermore, this lack of exposure to pathology is prevalent among undergraduate students even before they enter medical school – but increasing that exposure sees a corresponding increase in people’s interest in pathology (4).
To address the workforce shortage and students’ limited pathology exposure, Aadil Ahmed (currently an Assistant Professor of Pathology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago) established POP in 2018. The program’s mission, as stated on its Twitter page, is “empowering and engaging high school students to learn about #pathology”. Embracing the Twitter hashtag #RebrandingPathology, Ahmed took on the challenge of raising awareness among high school students – who are often just beginning to think about their futures – about the lifestyle, workflow, market, career options, and social media presence of pathologists and laboratory medicine professionals. Initially, Ahmed and other local pathologists conducted POP’s interactive sessions in high schools throughout Chicagoland. But, since connecting with Ahmed over Twitter, my colleagues and I have been working closely with him to grow the initiative so that it can reach high school students who may be impacted by its message not just in northeast Illinois, but in southeast Michigan and (hopefully) beyond!
Now serving as the Alumni Education and Research Coordinator for the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine-College of Osteopathic Medicine Pathology Interest Group (@CPathig) and Co-Ambassador for POP, I am proud to work alongside Ahmed as we help high schoolers discover the awesomeness of pathology and consider pursuing it as a medical specialty. POP is a great opportunity for medical students, residents, pathologists, and other lab personnel to talk with high school students in their respective communities about the importance of pathology in healthcare and its many career pathways. We hope that this program will continue to positively influence high school students’ perspectives toward pathology and, eventually, ameliorate the current pathologist shortage.
- S Arvisais-Anhalt, MA Molani, “What Is Pathology?” (2019). Available at: https://capatholo.gy/3xbcM4o.
- M Raich, “Pathology Job Market Struggling to Meet Increasing Demand” (2022). Available at: https://bit.ly/3xB1nw1.
- SJ Robboy et al., “Pathologist workforce in the United States: I. Development of a predictive model to examine factors influencing supply,” Arch Pathol Lab Med, 137, 1723 (2013). PMID: 23738764.
- I Harrold, N Williams, “98 Increasing Interest and Exposure to Pathology for Medical Students,” Am J Clin Pathol, 149(suppl_1), S42 (2018).