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Outside the Lab Training and education, Laboratory management, Profession

Leading the Way to Success

The leadership fellowship Bethany Williams describes in her interview with The Pathologist (1) is a refreshing look at a novel program – one that may be a voice for change in the profession of pathology and laboratory medicine. More than just an informatics fellowship, this unique program appears to be the first of its kind to focus on the tools and skills of leadership and management, which are much needed in our discipline.

It is unfortunate that essential leadership and management skills are not generally taught in pathology training models. All too often, “leadership” is confused with “title” or “position.” In academic medicine, the system has historically promoted individuals due to age, publication productivity, or grant funding. These accomplishments, although impressive, are not necessarily indicators of true leadership and do not in any way suggest that a person is capable of managing. This is true for microbiology, cytopathology, molecular diagnostics, and every other aspect of pathology and laboratory medicine.

To assume that, because someone is the only person in your institution who understands a computer, they should be in charge of informatics (or IT) is a mistake.

Another common fallacy is that “the one person who knows” should be in charge. I remember well when informatics came into being and several of my senior faculty suddenly became “informaticians.” Next, we started recruiting residents who wanted to do informatics. Now, of course, it is a vital branch of our enormous tree – a specialty in its own right with a clear curriculum and obvious role in the practice of pathology. But the skills of the people entering this field are, by and large, computers – not leadership or management. To assume that, because someone is the only person in your institution who understands a computer, they should be in charge of informatics (or IT) is a mistake. The same naturally holds true for any subspecialty in our field, and for any laboratory in the world.

Pathologists and laboratory professionals are often underappreciated and do not get a seat at the table for major strategic planning. But that is not because what we do is unimportant; in fact, our work is arguably one of the most important aspects of a healthcare system! The reason we often lack input into important plans is that we do not use leadership and management skills to demonstrate our value within the system, present it to those who are not familiar with pathology and laboratory medicine, and strategically plan its contribution to the whole. It is not enough to step up to the table as an expert and espouse the value of what you do every day; personally, I have found that actually often turns the C-suite off.

Strategic leadership planning requires selflessness, accountability, transparency, compromise, an ability to see the whole system, and the skills to reach solutions that achieve a common goal. It is true that not everyone can be in charge, but that doesn’t mean that not everyone can have, understand, and use the teachable skills of leadership and management. It doesn’t matter how you parse situations – whether by role, goal, personality, or any other approach that works for you. What matters is that you think like a manager when parsing those situations and tackling those goals. Through fellowships that hone such skills, people like Bethany Williams will gain the ability to think this way in informatics – and beyond.

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  1. M Schubert, “Leading by Example”, The Pathologist, 53, 50 (2019). Available at: bit.ly/2ZD8ml6.
About the Author
Dan A. Milner, Jr

Dan Milner is Chief Medical Officer at the American Society for Clinical Pathology, Chicago, USA.

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