Pathology Recruitment Down Under
Medical student education and recruitment in pathology, “Australasian style”
Eve Propper | | Opinion
As pathologists and laboratory medical professionals, it’s our job to ensure that our profession continues to thrive – and that most definitely includes encouraging and educating the next generation. But how do you begin when most science students are unaware of their career options in laboratory medicine? What do you say to medical students who aren’t familiar with pathology’s role in patient care? It’s clear that the first step is to introduce these students to the field – and where better to do so than at a conference designed for sharing knowledge and insight?
Pathology Update is the key annual scientific meeting for the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) – an organization with training programs across Australasia, including Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia, and the support of over 2,800 fellows and 700 trainees. Rotating between Sydney and Melbourne, Pathology Update features every discipline of pathology and laboratory medicine separately (allowing the 1,200 delegates to choose their preferred streams and sessions) but, each day, all of the disciplines and faculties come together for a plenary session.
What makes the meeting unique is its strong focus on promoting pathology by actively engaging science and medical students. Especially in view of changing trends in medical education, which have reduced the visibility of pathology as a specialist medical discipline, it’s vital to ensure future generations of pathologists and scientists. And that’s why the Pathology Update Overseeing Committee and the RCPA Board of Directors made the decision to invite medical and science students to attend the annual conference. By showcasing the disciplines of pathology and laboratory medicine and by highlighting the current diverse scope of practice in pathology, we hope to reach out to future pathology medical and science trainees, helping to avert a workforce crisis.
Not only do we welcome them, but we provide them with assistance to attend our meeting. The RCPA offers 25 full complimentary scientific and social registrations to Pathology Update and another 25 reduced-rate registrations to medical and science students from Australia and New Zealand. These medical and science student grants are promoted directly through Australian and New Zealand academic universities and institutions. Interested students simply need to complete a registration form to explain briefly why they would like to attend Pathology Update and what benefits they hope to gain by attending. The applications are (anonymously) assessed by our Director of Education and Education Advisor and the top 50 applicants provided with grants. As a separate award, the RCPA provides travel and accommodation grants for medical and science students who identify as Indigenous, Torres Strait Islander, or Maori. We also invite students who have completed projects in pathology-related areas to submit posters for presentation at Pathology Update.
On the first morning of the meeting, all student grant recipients are invited to a “Welcome Breakfast” to get to know each other and the representatives of the RCPA. The session is informal, but includes a brief introductory talk about pathology and the RCPA, and highlights suggested sessions. And, to break the ice, all students are photographed by state or territory with Debra Graves (RCPA’s CEO) and attending pathologists.
Throughout the conference, science and medical students are identified by dots on their name badges so that they can easily recognize each other and so that existing RCPA trainees can identify and interact with them. We understand how overwhelming it can be for students to attend a specialty conference! That’s why we also have the Education Advisor keep track of the students and contact them each day to make sure they’re having the best possible experience. We encourage students to attend Pathology Update in its entirety, including social functions such as the welcome cocktail party, annual awards and admission ceremony, and celebration. The educational aspect of Pathology Update is important – but the social networking aspect is no less so. Networking and socialization are a huge part of life in medicine and this is a good introduction. After all, it’s how young trainees and senior fellows can offer advice to guide and influence students.
The reaction from students is positive; some find attendance so rewarding that they apply to attend successive meetings! But, for a more objective measure, we also monitor the progression of each cohort; approximately 20 of those who attend Pathology Update as scholarship recipients each year sit the RCPA Basic Pathological Sciences examination. And about five trainees who join the RCPA training programs each year are previous Pathology Update scholarship recipients – direct evidence that our approach is having a beneficial effect.
The introduction of the Medical and Science Student Grants to attend Pathology Update has been a popular initiative amongst interested students. Even those students who pursue careers in other medical specialty disciplines tell us that they have benefited enormously from their exposure to, and engagement with, enthusiastic pathologists at our annual conference. In my view, every organization could benefit from a similar program – as would the potential pathologists of the future.
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