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Outside the Lab Profession, Training and education

Preaching Beyond the Choir

After nearly five years on The Pathologist, I feel like I’ve become well acquainted with many of you. We interact on Twitter. We get to know one another through articles. And, of course, we meet up in person at conferences throughout the year – to take selfies; to start hashtags; to have conversations. Nothing makes me happier than to spot a name or a face I recognize in the bustle of an exhibition hall or in the rush from one session to the next.

I consider myself privileged to be able to interact like this with so many pathologists and laboratory medicine professionals. But I also know that, as soon as I get home, things won’t be quite the same. The next time I have a blood test or a biopsy of my own, I won’t know the person who analyzes or interprets it. It will be whisked away into the laboratory “black box” to return as an anonymous result typed on a sheet of plain paper. I wouldn’t even know whom to ask if I wanted to know more about the testing – and I’m not sure my doctor would either.

A patient won’t ask about pathology – let alone reach out to the lab – if they don’t know it exists in the first place.

That’s not the future I want for this very special profession. To my friends who are neither scientists nor doctors, I often find myself explaining, “You know. The people who read your blood tests and diagnose diseases and decide which treatments will work best for which people…” It’s hard to summarize all facets of laboratory medicine in a single sentence! When my doctor asks me what I do for a living, but then responds with a hesitant, “Oh… okay…” after I tell them that I write about pathology – that’s slightly more worrying.

Other medical professionals, of course, should know who their laboratory colleagues are – and many feel that patients should have the same education and access. But are we missing a vital first step? A patient won’t ask about pathology – let alone reach out to the lab – if they don’t know it exists in the first place. So how can that barrier be breached? Some suggest social media. Others place leaflets in public areas of hospitals. Still others have recommended explanatory sections on pathology reports or in patient access portals. What methods do you use – and have any been particularly successful? Tell us about it at [email protected]; we’d love to help spread the word!

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About the Author
Michael Schubert

While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.

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