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Outside the Lab Profession

Our Past Informs Our Future

Pathology and laboratory medicine have a rich past. Our history can be traced back to 400 BC, starting with Hippocrates and his study of the pathology of the human spine. In the centuries since the profession’s original inception, our knowledge has grown and our expertise continues to expand.

As the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) approaches its 100-year anniversary in 2022, it’s important to reflect on how far we’ve come and the impact we’ve had on the profession. It’s important to not only see what we’ve done, but also use it to shape our future. Writer and philosopher George Santayana is quoted as having said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As pathology and laboratory medicine evolve, these words seem ever more poignant to me.

Clearly, a century’s worth of accomplishments can’t fit onto a single page. But if we focus on just the past two decades, ASCP has made tremendous strides to benefit the profession. Here are three milestones from our recent history that have helped change the face of pathology and laboratory medicine – now and in the future.

  1. We’ve shaped our mission around patient-centric care.

As health care has shifted to value-based care, we recognized that, despite a history of limited patient interaction, pathologists and laboratory scientists had to engage with patients to improve health care. It is up to us to lead this effort, and it starts with understanding the patient behind the sample.

The goal is for patients to better understand their laboratory tests so they can ensure they are getting the right tests at the right times.

We launched our Institute for Science, Technology and Policy to foster the needed work on evidence-based practice and patient-centered outcomes. We’ve developed a national curriculum on cancer genomics for pathology residents. And, since its inception, we have been an active and vocal partner in the Choosing Wiselycampaign, which encourages patients to be more proactive in their care. The goal is for patients to better understand their laboratory tests so they can ensure they are getting the right tests at the right times. These are just a few examples of our efforts to change the way the laboratory is viewed (and understood) by patients – and how the laboratory views itself in relation to patient health.

2. We’ve made global health local health.

Part of being “patient-centric” is recognizing that high-quality health care shouldn’t be limited to a single location. It needs to be available to people across the world. Because of this, we’ve criss-crossed the globe to bring laboratory education to underrepresented countries, helped develop sustainable workforces, and implemented technologies in resource-limited countries to help the pathology and laboratory professionals in those areas better serve their patients.

We are leading the Partners for Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment in Africa coalition to ensure patients in underserved areas have access to not only ASCP diagnostic experts from around the world, but also timely cancer reporting and clinical care. In addition, we have helped stem the tide of the HIV epidemic throughout the world and brought rapid diagnoses to patients in countries that would otherwise be devastated by the disease. By sharing our knowledge and expertise, we narrow the health-care gap and actively promote the need for improved global health.

3. We’ve built connections that serve as the foundation for growth.

There is no “I” in laboratory, and pathologists and laboratory scientists know that healthcare leadership requires macroscale teamwork – partnering and collaborating with public and private entities on national and global scales. Through these efforts, we have been able to proactively improve health care and put ourselves at the center of the change. With each connection – each bridge built – we have further solidified the importance of the laboratory, and we will continue to build on that strength.

As we move forward, what we’ve learned from these experiences will undoubtedly help form how we respond to challenges, as well as how we foster further change in our profession to ensure that we continue to have a significant impact on the emerging state of health care.

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About the Author

E. Blair Holladay

CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology

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