Jerad Gardner, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Dermatology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine
What attracted you to pathology?
When I was 17 years old, I was a technical assistant at a private laboratory in Florida, Pensacola Pathologists. My friend told me about the job; her mom was a histotech and lab manager there (Shari and Janet, I’m eternally thankful for you both!). It was serendipity. I watched gross dissection and autopsies. I coverslipped slides. I peered into the microscope and watched the pathologists instantly decide if something was cancer or not…as if by magic! I loved all of it. Frederick Nora was one of the pathologists I worked with there. He was enthusiastic and had a great sense of humor. I once asked him if he liked being a pathologist, and he said, "Jerad, I come to work, have fun, and they pay me for it!" I'm not sure if he remembers that conversation or even remembers me. But I've never forgotten that succinct but poignant quote, and I now feel exactly that way about my job as a pathologist. It was only years later, after I became a bone and soft tissue pathologist, that I made the connection that Dr. Nora was actually the Nora of Nora's lesion (bizarre parosteal osteochondromatous proliferation [BPOP])! Pathology truly is a small world.
Can you briefly summarize your career path from training to your current role?
I attended medical school at Tulane University in New Orleans. I was a fourth-year medical student there during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. We evacuated to Houston, and I ended up staying there for my residency in anatomic and clinical pathology at Houston Methodist Hospital. I followed that with a fellowship in bone and soft tissue pathology with Dr. Sharon Weiss at Emory University in Atlanta and then a fellowship in dermatopathology at Emory, as well. I then entered practice at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2012. I have been here at UAMS ever since.
What opportunities has your work on social media provided you with professionally?
The benefits are too numerous to count. But without a doubt the single most valuable benefit is that I now have a worldwide network of amazing pathologists, who are not only my collaborators and colleagues, but also, in many cases, my personal friends. Certainly, many pathologists in the past have built such a worldwide network without social media, but for most of them it took decades whereas it has taken me less than five years. Social media is a vastly more efficient way to accomplish things!
You encourage others to incorporate social media into their ongoing professional development. Why?
So many wonderful mentors helped make me into the man and pathologist that I am today. I feel a debt to them. I cannot repay them, but I can pay it forward. Investing in professional social media use has been one of the best career decisions I've ever made. Now I want to help ensure that other pathologists make the right choice about using social media, too. If we as pathologists all use social media, we will have a powerful public platform from which to educate, advocate, and promote good patient care worldwide. This is our chance. We must speak up together boldly on behalf of our field and our patients. So many people from all over the world have told me how much they appreciate social media posts by pathologists, how our posts have helped them take better care of their real-life patients. I've met sarcoma patients via Facebook support groups and it has changed my life, my research, even how I practice medicine. I want every pathologist to experience these amazing things. I truly think our world would be a little bit better if more pathologists used social media. I have more experience with it than most other pathologists in the world, so I feel it is my duty to share those experiences with the rest of the pathology community and mentor and encourage them in their social media development in any way I can. I am paying my debt to my mentors and hopefully inspiring another generation of pathologists.
Is there one achievement that you are most proud of?
I have been involved in a lot of innovations on the frontiers of pathology social media. I feel lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, and I feel honored to have been trusted by so many leaders, particularly at the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology, the American Society of Dermatopathology, and the Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, who allowed me to explore the use of social media on behalf of their organizations/publication. But the thing I am most proud of is my work with sarcoma patient support groups on Facebook (see youtu.be/tW7dzU0Gg34 ). The chance to educate and learn from rare cancer patients, to help empower them, to raise awareness about their diseases, and to collaborate with them in designing research focused on their own tumor types has been priceless to me personally. I believe this could revolutionize the future of rare cancer research, and it is a powerful innovation that has zero cost! Pathologists could be at the very center of this by being involved in these groups just as I have been. We now have an IRB approved prospective research study of one of these sarcomas (DFSP –dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans) that is currently ongoing; we can recruit patients and obtain long-term clinical follow-up info directly from them via Facebook. It’s a new world, and it has been truly amazing to see all of this happen so quickly. My dream is to one day see every type of rare cancer have its own Facebook patient support group, where patients can find comfort and empathy from each other and from pathologists and other doctors who will collaborate with the patients in the fight against their disease.
What would you say to those who think pathology is a job for people who don’t like to communicate?
Well first I would laugh out loud for a long time. And then after I composed myself and wiped the tears from my eyes, I would gently explain to that person about all of the different ways that pathologists demonstrate excellent communication skills. From how we carefully craft the wording of our pathology reports, to how we interface with our colleagues in other specialties at tumor boards or during frozen sections, to how we share our knowledge with medical colleagues using social media. I would show them my YouTube videos about how pathologists use patient support groups on Facebook to interact directly with rare cancer patients (see https://youtu.be/3QsJqc3Fw3g). I would show them my survey data of over 1,100 of my followers, the vast majority of whom say that they benefit from my social media posts about pathology (see https://goo.gl/vBBJXd). And I am just one out of the thousands of pathologists on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram who are doing similar things, bridging the knowledge gap between pathology and the rest of the world via social media communications. And then after all of that I would ask: "So what was that again you were saying about how pathologists don't like to communicate?" ;-) <Mic drop>
If you could go back to the beginning of your career, would you do anything differently?
I would have started using social media earlier and more robustly. I would have read more. I would have started making pathology teaching videos earlier. I would like to have learned patience and maturity sooner (although maybe those things require time to learn – and it seems I still have a lot of learning left to do in those areas!). But honestly, overall, I would do it all over again more or less the same way.
After graduating with a pharmacology degree, I began my career in scientific publishing and communications. Now with more than 16 years of experience in this field, my career has seen me heading up editorial and writing teams at Datamonitor, Advanstar and KnowledgePoint360 group. My past experiences have taught me something very important – that you have to enjoy working with, and have respect for your colleagues. It’s this that drew me to Texere where I now work with old colleagues and new. Though we are a hugely diverse team, we share several things in common – a real desire to work hard to succeed, to be the best at what we do, never to settle for second best, and to have fun while we do it. I am now honored to serve as Editor of The Pathologist and Editorial Director of Texere Publishing.