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Outside the Lab Profession, Training and education

Peer-to-Peer, Featuring Jae Y. Ro

Haneen Salah interviews Jae Y. Ro

It’s sometimes said that the right teacher can change a life – and nowhere is this truer than with Jae Y. Ro. In his nearly 50 years as a pathologist, Ro has trained over 500 residents and fellows – many of whom have gone on to become pathology leaders in Korea and the US. He has received numerous awards, served as a guest lecturer abroad, and been involved in the publication of over 750 papers, eight textbooks, and 30 book chapters and teaching manuals. But his greatest contribution to the field may be his eponymous conference – an hour-long lecture he has run every day for the last 25 years. What drives Ro’s passion for pathology and education? To find out, Haneen Salah interviewed him about his approach to the discipline and what others can learn from his work.

Ro during his fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center (1984–85).

When did you start your conference – and why?
 

My greatest passion is teaching – whether students, residents, or fellows. I started the Ro teaching conference at MD Anderson Cancer Center about 30 years ago when I noticed a lot of trainees and visitors who were eager to learn. The conference is usually a one-hour teaching session with a multi-headed scope, in which I share interesting educational cases and teach my diagnostic approach to pathology cases.

Throughout the years, more and more trainees discovered and joined the conference – so much so that I continued the tradition when I moved to Houston Methodist Hospital. Currently, first-year pathology residents here have an hour reserved every day to attend my conference.

What is your diagnostic approach to pathology slides?
 

The first step in my approach is to decide whether the slide contains a lesion – and, if so, whether that lesion is neoplastic or non-neoplastic. After identifying a neoplastic lesion, the next step is to determine whether it is of epithelial or mesenchymal origin. Then, we decide whether the tumor is benign or malignant. Finally, we classify the type of tumor based on cellular differentiation and gross and microscopic growth patterns.

Ro’s conference – and appreciation from residents.

What are triads – and why do you use them in your teaching?
 

When you attend a lesson or lecture, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information provided. And that’s when things become hard to consolidate. I try to group every condition or disease into a “triad” because I believe it makes the information easier to understand and remember. For example, the three key elements to identify a lymph node microscopically are i) the capsule, ii) the subcapsular sinus, and iii) the presence of lymphocytes.

Who has inspired you during your career?
 

I consider Alberto Ayala my mentor, father, and brother. When I joined MD Anderson Cancer Center as a surgical pathology fellow, Ayala – then a professor – was caring, available, and approachable to trainees. I have now worked with him for over 35 years and we have published over 250 scientific papers together. His mentorship has built in me a love of teaching that I give back to my trainees.

Jae Y. Ro with Alberto Ayala.

Can you tell us about your “BEST” system?
 

When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I promised myself that I was going to do my best throughout my pathology training journey. Although the word “best” already has a great meaning, I turned it into an acronym: Basics, Effort, Study, Think.

The most important foundation for pathology is knowing the “basics” – normal histology and anatomy. Next is putting effort into studying, because that’s a key part of gaining knowledge. The last stage is thinking. The reason thinking comes last is because, in pathology, you can only think outside the box once you have a good knowledge of the basics built on effective studying. It’s this foundation that opens the door to innovative ideas. Throughout the years, I’ve made a slight adjustment to this system. I’ve realized that, to achieve your BEST, you must enjoy your work. So, the “e” is not just for effort, but for enjoyment as well.

What advice would you give to current pathology and laboratory medicine trainees?
 

All of my advice comes in acronyms! Here are my favorites:

  1. Do your “BEST.”
  2. I CARE values: integrity, compassion, accountability, respect, and excellence. (These originate from the Houston Methodist Hospital values.)  
  3. CCC: communicate, collaborate, and consult!

A Pathologist’s Praise
 

Words from some of Ro’s many mentees

Jae Y. Ro and Jerad Gardner at the Korean Pathologists’ Association of North America award at USCAP 2019.

“Jae Ro is an amazing surgical pathologist, a masterful teacher, and one of my greatest mentors. More than anyone else, I credit him with inspiring me to become a pathology educator.”

– Jerad Gardner, Section Head, Soft Tissue and Bone Pathology, Geisinger Medical Laboratories at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, Pennsylvania, USA

Jae Y. Ro and Ziad El-Zaatari at USCAP 2018.

“There is no other mentor who has made an impact on me more than Jae Y. Ro has. He is what an ideal mentor is and should be.”

– Ziad El-Zaatari, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pathology and Genomic Medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas, USA

Special thanks to Jerad Gardner and Ziad El-Zaatari for highlighting how Ro’s mentorship influenced their careers. I would also like to thank Adrienne Winston from the Office of Academic Development, Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine, Houston Methodist Research Institute, for her edits and suggestions. Additionally, a big thanks to my fellow residents (Anna Garcia, Danice Torman, Neesha Siriwardane, and Leo Montesinos Barona, Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital) for their edits and suggestions.

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About the Authors
Haneen Salah

First-year pathology resident physician in the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas, USA.


Jae Y. Ro

Professor and Director of Surgical Pathology at Weill Cornell Medical College, Houston Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas, USA.

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