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Outside the Lab Training and education, Software and hardware, Technology and innovation

Collaborate to Educate

“Around the world, COVID-19 has increased the workload and stress of healthcare workers, especially those working long hours on the frontlines,” says Heather Dow, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Pathologists – Association canadienne des pathologistes (CAP-ACP). “Pathologists have been particularly important throughout the pandemic because they are essential members of the care team and responsible for diagnostic and testing efforts.”

Not only that, but many pathologists have made significant adjustments to their practice to increase safety without impacting patient care. Laurette Geldenhuys, Division Head and Service Chief of Anatomical Pathology at the QEII Health Sciences Centre and Professor of Pathology at Dalhousie University, says, “We have seen a variety of changes, such as an increase in mask-wearing, the banning of co-review with multi-head microscopes, and encouragement to work from home for administrative activities. There has also been selective reduction in some surgical pathology specimens because of a decrease in non-urgent patient care.”

Catherine Ross, President of CAP-ACP and Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at Juravinski Hospital/McMaster University, adds, “That decision was not without consequences; many patients are showing negative effects from delayed treatment. Now, our approach is to try to keep these cases flowing – but some pathologists are now feeling the pressure of increased workload as they catch up on patient diagnoses that have been delayed.”

Digital resources also help to maintain knowledge and prepare students for real-world scenarios.

With pathologists under pressure and in-person learning still a risk, what effect has the pandemic had on learners? “Pathology students throughout North America had their educational activities and exams (for instance, the 2020 Royal College exams) postponed due to COVID-19,” Dow says. Other exams had their structures revised and some components – such as oral and practical portions – omitted. Nonetheless, says Dow, “It is critical for students and resident pathologists who are just beginning their careers to continue to expand their knowledge and sharpen clinical practice skills. Although working the frontlines provides residents with plenty of firsthand experience, digital resources also help to maintain knowledge and prepare students for real-world scenarios. For instance, we’ve partnered with Elsevier to use their ExpertPath tool (1), which provides users with highly vetted diagnostic information across pathology specialties, in addition to data from anatomic and clinical pathology rotations.”

Richard Loomis, Chief Informatics Officer, Clinical Solutions at Elsevier, explains, “Online education resources provide pathologists at all stages with the ability to quickly access reliable learning and reference materials to inform their day-to-day decisions. Tools like ExpertPath are designed to be a ‘resource in the room,’ providing up-to-date, evidence-based reference information to enable accurate and timely diagnosis.”

But even with additional resources, medical school is a challenging journey, and some students struggle to stay engaged. “We have also seen more students feeling isolated due to a lack of personal connections and the loss of training and clinical hours,” says Dow. “The lack of in-person training can also make it difficult to focus on tangible aspects of their work that aren’t always easily translated via digital media. Improving the interactivity of virtual learning is key.”

The future of health is digital – on this, everyone agrees – and it’s up to medical schools and educators to explore new and innovative ways to deliver learning to aspiring pathologists, whether in the lab or in the living room.

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  1. Elsevier, "ExpertPath" (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/36j0udv.

About the Author

Michael Schubert

While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.

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