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Outside the Lab Profession, Technology and innovation, Training and education

Leadership Is an Opportunity and Our Obligation

Pathology has always been at the forefront of medicine. The scientific methods we use to discern the causes of diseases have a history that stretches as far back as the Middle East during the Islam Golden Age and Europe during the Italian Renaissance. From the earliest autopsies to microscopic pathology in the mid-1800s to the first infectious disease investigators in the early 1900s, the men and women who study disease have dictated the direction of medicine.

Although the study of diseases had existed for hundreds of years, until the early 20th century, it was essentially an autopsy-based, theoretical academic subject taught in medical schools. The flu epidemic of 1918, was, in practical terms, the birth of modern pathology in the United States. While the epidemic ravaged the world, pathologists and laboratory professionals worked to find the cause of the disease. It took these medical detectives a few years to settle on a viral cause for the epidemic – but along the way, they discovered a battery of novel diagnostic techniques, such as the creation of chocolate agar to aid the recovery of fastidious bacterial organisms.

It’s imperative that practicing pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists drive change within their own institutions.

The leadership that pathologists displayed during the flu epidemic is evident in the early history of the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Fueled by a desire to legitimize the burgeoning field of hospital-based clinical pathology as well as to improve its practice, Philip Hillkowitz and Ward Burdick founded ASCP in Denver, Colorado, in 1922. ASCP, in turn, established the Board of Registry (BOR) – the first certification agency – in 1928. The organization then followed up by publishing the first reference book for laboratory medicine practitioners (Approved Methods in Laboratory Techniques) and the first medical journal for pathologists and laboratory professionals (The American Journal of Clinical Pathology) in 1933. In 1953, the BOR was the first medical organization to use machines to grade their certification exams and, in 1955, it elected Emma S. Moss as its President. Moss was not only the first female President of ASCP; she was the first female President of any national medical association.

Although medical societies such as ASCP are essential for the future of the medical laboratory profession, thanks to education and policy initiatives, how else can we push for change? It’s imperative that practicing pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists drive that change within their own institutions as well. It can be as simple as sending supplies to laboratories in need or establishing standards of practice in laboratories where none exist today. It’s implementing new technologies to streamline processes. It’s discovering molecular diagnostics that will pave the way to personalized medicine. It’s working with industry to force new paradigms in healthcare, such as pricing transparency or standardized laboratory reports.

We have always been leaders, and it’s up to those of us in the field today to continue that leadership. Leading our staff, institutions, and the profession toward innovative changes is an opportunity as well as our obligation.

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About the Author
E. Blair Holladay

CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology

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