The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Speaking up for yourself is valuable – but only if you have an audience
Recently, in an interview for Vox’s “The Weeds (1),” well-known American surgeon and public health researcher Atul Gawande was asked, “What do you think is particularly important for individuals working in the medical field to know about communication and people skills?”
I agreed with the start of his response – “It’s all about communication” – but was taken aback as he continued, “There are corners in medicine where you don’t really have to be good at communication. You can work in laboratory medicine; you can work in a basic science lab; you can work in pathology, where your life is under a microscope. That did not appeal to me, because I like talking and connecting with people.”
How can someone so visible – the author of four books, a MacArthur Fellow, a director in the World Health Organization – be so wrong about pathology, and share those views so publicly? And, more importantly, what impression are Gawande’s many followers getting of pathologists? Antisocial. Isolated. Unfriendly… No wonder such stereotypes persist (2)! We encourage pathologists to speak up for themselves and their profession, but communication is a two-way street, and it’s hard to carry on a conversation when the people you’re talking to simply aren’t listening.
What can you do? First and foremost: be seen. Invite clinicians and patients into your office, or into the laboratory. Speak to them about the diagnoses you make. Demystify what lies between sending a sample to the laboratory and receiving a diagnosis – and how to proceed from that point onward. As you’ll see in this month’s feature article, you might be surprised at just how unfamiliar your clinical colleagues are with your work.
Have you experienced similar attitudes toward your choice of specialty? Do you have any suggestions for surmounting those stereotypes – not just by finding your voice, but by making sure it’s heard? If so, I’d love to hear about it ([email protected]).
More than anything in my time with The Pathologist, I’ve enjoyed learning from the pathology community – and I’ve found that pathologists are enthusiastic about sharing their expertise. As diagnostic technologies advance, precision medicine expands, and the laboratory becomes an ever-larger piece of the healthcare pie, I hope we can work together to set the stage for open dialog between pathologists who are eager to talk and clinicians who are excited to listen.
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.