Laying a #Path2Path Through Social Media
Leading medical students to pathology
Dana Razzano, Yonah C. Ziemba, Christina Arnold, Xiaoyin “Sara” Jiang, Adam Booth, Kaitlin Sundling, Valerie Fitzhugh, Nicole D. Riddle, Kamran Mirza, Jerad M. Gardner, Amy Deeken, Maren Fuller, Kalpana Reddy, Daniela Hermelin | | Longer Read
Although a career in pathology and laboratory medicine has never been the most popular choice for medical students, recent years have demonstrated an alarming downward trend (1). There are many possible reasons medical students avoid pathology. Negative stereotypes about the field may potentiate the problem (2). Lack of exposure to the real-life practice of the specialty during medical school (because a pathology clerkship is not required) doesn’t help. Concerns about the job market have also been reported as a potential deterrent (3). Although some students are highly informed about pathology and actively choose the field, effective recruitment strategies will give those who are uncertain about their choice of specialty adequate opportunities to explore pathology. Improving the visibility of pathology and lowering the barriers to learning more about it may also increase the number of applicants from underrepresented groups. And even students who don’t ultimately choose pathology will become doctors with a better understanding of our field.
In 2018, a team of pathologists, fellows, and residents (“Team Pathology”) formed to create #Path2Path, a social media initiative to counter negative messages about careers in pathology. The team hosts a series of “Twitter chat” events to expose medical students to the online pathology community and career possibilities in the field. The inspiration came from a similar outreach effort by the virtual radiology community – a Twitter chat event called “#6StepstoRad” aimed at recruiting medical students to radiology (4).
Team Pathology’s goals were to reach out to the medical student community on Twitter and help inform anyone that might be considering pathology as a career. We wanted to foster a positive, supportive medical culture – and, at the same time, dispel negative stereotypes and misconceptions about our field.
How did we do it?
#Path2Path is a series of Twitter chats hosted by the pathology community to reach the virtual medical student community. A Twitter chat is designed as i) a real-time conversation through incorporation of the hashtag #Path2Path and ii) a repository of information accessible by searching for the #Path2Path hashtag.
Between 2018 and 2020, four events were held. The chats were advertised on Twitter, on the Path2Path website, and in various pathology student interest groups throughout the USA. The first two were pathology-focused residency and career question-and-answer chats; the third focused on preparing for the pathology match and interview process; and the fourth focused on the pathology match and choosing the best program. All four events were organized and hosted by the #Path2Path group, who also prepared questions to stimulate and guide conversation. However, spontaneous questions were also welcomed, and all questions were answered in a real-time public forum to be accessed on the #Path2Path Twitter thread.
Many residents, fellows, and attendings participated in the events – and now, the #Path2Path hashtag is so popular that individuals and pathology organizations use it to communicate other pro-pathology content.
Did it work?
Reaching out to medical students on Twitter was a fun and productive experience for everyone involved. Many medical students from around the world joined the events, and tweets tagged #Path2Path generated impressions in the millions. Medical students and pathology match applicants interacted directly with pathologists, fellows, and residents, often asking specific questions unique to their application process.
An informal survey querying the helpfulness of events received mostly positive responses (see Figure 1) – and, anecdotally, many members of the pathology community who joined in to reach out to the medical students reported that it was a positive, enjoyable community-building experience.
Due to the public nature of social media, #Path2Path Twitter events could purpose our mission on a number of levels in synchronous motion. First, medical students who may not have the opportunity to visit a pathology department, had a window into the collegial working dynamics and warm interactions between colleagues, peers and participants. Furthermore, these students have direct access to experts and trainees, alike, breaking down any archaic professional hierarchies, while generating an inclusive and accessible atmosphere, both within the virtual space and bricks and mortar space.
Team Pathology’s efforts are focused on supporting medical students in exploring and possibly choosing a career in pathology and laboratory medicine. Through our #Path2Path events, we fostered curiosity, freely educated students about our field, demonstrated our warm and collegial community spirit, and joined others who are already advocating for this cause.
We need to work harder at recruiting students into pathology – a need that has prompted outreach efforts from major pathology organizations. The College of American Pathologists launched a resource-rich webpage aimed at medical students considering pathology (5). The American Society for Clinical Pathology created an Ambassador Program to encourage contact between medical students and the laboratory medicine community (6). And the Association of Pathology Chairs developed a Pipeline Development Council to focus on increasing the number of students entering the field.
Individual pathologists are also working hard on recruitment. Elizabeth Morency has debunked the myths that surround our discipline (7). Kamran Mirza works with medical students to advocate for a universal pathology clerkship to help broaden medical education and bring more talent to the field (8). In response to the COVID-19-related restrictions disrupting pathology electives, Mirza and Cullen Lilley created a virtual pathology elective rotation for students to access online. Others, like Rick Mitchell, have written to advocate for the field of pathology, encouraging medical educators to provide more exposure (9).
Through these combined efforts, we hope to see more trainees pursue pathology – not just because of the pressing need for more pathologists, but we also want to provide every opportunity for students to be exposed to pathology and learn about the potential of pursuing our amazing field.
Author’s note: All authors are members of ‘Team Pathology’ and contributed to this project and this work equally.
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