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Letter to the Editor: Media Exposure

Does pathology need more media representation? That was the somewhat leading question we asked you in a recent newsletter. [Don’t receive the newsletter? Subscribe here!]. The topic was inspired by our interview with Alan Wu, who noted the “CSI effect” and discussed his plans to create a scripted dramatic TV show based on the lab in a bid to increase awareness. The responses came in thick and fast, so we decided to collate a few to share. Enjoy!

Jeorgia Roach

“I absolutely agree with the lack of realistic and accurate representation that laboratory scientists receive in the media. I am a lab worker who specifically works in histopathology, and when I mention that I work in ‘pathology,’ most people assume that I’m an actual medical pathologist as opposed to a technician. As a former phlebotomist, something that really grinds my gears – particularly in television and film – is seeing characters arbitrarily jamming a needle into a patient’s arm (or other body part) and immediately drawing vast quantities of blood. It’s just not how it works. 

“I think in theory the idea of a lab-centric TV program is excellent; however, I just don’t see anybody doing it justice in this social climate and a reality/documentary style program just wouldn’t hold enough people’s interest.” 

David Lynn Smith 

“We definitely need representation in the media. But how can it succeed as a stand alone show without becoming wildly unrealistic? Granted, realistic television is an oxymoron. Take crime shows. TV cops get in a shootout weekly and never spend much time in court. Real cops usually retire without firing a gun at anything but qualification targets and spend lots of time in court or filling out reports. 

“There is some danger in creating a false image. For example, detective shows often depict how sending a single drop of dried blood to the lab will get you everything about a guy – even down to his hat size. And we already have doctors who don’t understand why we can’t just grow bacteria faster.  

“I suspect the FBI ‘helps’ a great deal with shows about them. We would need even more of a voice in Hollywood because our work is downright mysterious and mystical to most (we even use incantations – or what sounds the same to muggles).

“I think our best bet is seeing labs occupy a regular slot on other shows – as forensic examiners do on some cop shows.”

Chukwudumebi Onyiuke

“Short answer to increased media representation? YES! I trained in Nigeria and Dr. House brought a new wave of trainees into the West African College of Physicians laboratory medicine residency. The most frequently asked question my kids used to get? Who is a pathologist? What is laboratory medicine? Haema-what?”

Leena Devi

“I am a pathologist from India, holder of MBBS and MD in Pathology. When I joined my postgraduate course, my professor suggested I read ‘Final Diagnosis’ by Arthur Hailey. I quickly realized the part played by pathologists was behind the stage.

“Later in life, I realized that patients and the general public have no idea what exactly pathologists do in the medical profession. The blow came recently when I watched a movie in Hindi that depicted the struggle of a fresh medical graduate who obtained admission to a postgraduate course in orthopedics. He realized that he had no hope of getting his choice. Further discussion with his mother and friend ensued. I was shocked when the mother remarked: ‘Don’t take the one that deals with poop and pee’ – meaning pathology. This very sentence will deter young graduates from choosing pathology as their specialty and will leave the wrong impression in people’s minds. I agree fully with Alan Wu that our profession needs media exposure, whether that be a TV series or a film. A ‘Diagnostic Scene effect,’ perhaps. DSI instead of CSI!”

Anne Sproul

“I’ve recently watched the Good Doctor. All aspects of the lab were ludicrous compared with my many years of experience in Scottish teaching hospitals where I ran molecular and flow departments diagnosing and monitoring leukemia patients. 

“In the Good Doctor, you see medics dropping specimens into a small multi-purpose lab where the head of pathology seems to be at the reception window promising to fast track a CBC. Also, the sequencing, design, and delivery of a gene therapy cure is completed overnight by a junior doctor and pathologist. But a routine genetic test for colon cancer is said to take two weeks?!

“I would love a true real life laboratory drama. In our hospital, a single on-call scientist was responsible for the blood bank and hematology – this is a major hospital with neurology and hematology cancer patients. Day time, we juggled specimens straight out of general practice – from a ‘mundane’ diagnosis of CLL to rare immune phenotype and novel mutations. 

“I’m sure our interpersonal relationships and detective work could be sexed up to make compelling viewing.”

What do you think? Join the debate: [email protected]

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About the Author
Georgia Hulme

Associate Editor for the Pathologist

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