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Outside the Lab Training and education, Profession

Kindling a Passion for Pathology

It’s commonly estimated that only three percent of medical students go into pathology. There are many reasons why such a small number of students choose pathology – but one of the biggest influences on a medical student’s choice of discipline is exposure.

And pathology isn’t getting enough of it.

Medical students are simply not offered the same introduction or exposure to the laboratory sciences as they are to other disciplines. Medical schools’ restructuring of curricula has come at the expense of pathology and laboratory sciences. As exposure to these disciplines decreases, it creates a ripple effect down the pipeline of medical students. The AAMC’s 2020 Report on Residents shows that there are 2,265 active anatomical and clinical pathology residents (1). That doesn’t seem like a small number, but compared with residents in surgery (over 9,000), family medicine (over 13,000), or internal medicine (over 27,000), it’s almost unfathomably small – especially when you consider how much of a patient’s medical journey pathologists are responsible for and how heavily pathology and laboratory medicine influence patient care.

Without pathologists, healthcare systems would be in shambles, having lost the foundation upon which so much of patient care is built.

The lack of inclusion of pathology in medical training goes beyond residency. Follow that path further and limited exposure to pathology studies in medical school curricula has an extensive detrimental effect on healthcare overall. We are currently facing a shortage of pathologists and the ever-present retirement cliff threatens our profession’s sustainability. Without exposure to pathology and laboratory medicine, medical schools are effectively cutting off medical students’ potential to discover what may be a prime path forward in their careers – and creating a dearth of pathologists. And without pathologists, healthcare systems would be in shambles, having lost the foundation upon which so much of patient care is built.

It’s important to recognize that pathology education doesn’t stop once medical students leave the confines of classrooms or residents end their training rounds. Not only do we, as pathologists and medical laboratory scientists, need to pursue our own continuing educational path, we also need to adopt the role of educator to those outside the laboratory. Extending our education to improve skills and services and to reinforce the integral role we play in patient care is a career-long journey.

Pathology needs to be included in medical school curricula – or even well before medical school – because, without it, the core of healthcare is missing from education. More importantly, for today’s medical students and those to come, it needs to be reintroduced and better positioned within existing curricula. To ignite the fire of passion medical students seek when considering their careers, we must start by emphasizing the magnitude of pathology’s impact on healthcare. The importance of the laboratory cannot be undermined – and it cannot be underscored enough.

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  1. AAMC, “Report on Residents” (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/3koJmdP.
About the Author
E. Blair Holladay

CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology

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