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Outside the Lab Training and education, Profession

Time of Your Life

June and July signal an important time in a physician’s career: the start of residency. Although continuing education should thread throughout every stage of one’s career, pathology residents are transitioning to a period of deeper learning. It’s a strenuous and somewhat stressful time, not only because of the hours they must commit to residency, but also because of the sheer breadth of knowledge they must absorb and then put into practice. What these residents learn now will shape their careers and influence how they practice well into the future.

Important, too, is how they learn during their residency. The COVID-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed how we live, work, and learn. At the height of the pandemic, new pathology residents had an entirely different experience from those who came before them. During the 2021 Spring Resident In-Service Examination (RISE), ASCP’s RISE Committee conducted a resident survey to ask about residency experiences. Respondents noted that, when the pandemic started, the amount of time they spent interacting with faculty, other residents, and fellows dropped. In the early days of the pandemic, pathology residents also saw a decrease in the number of specimens for review and faced logistical challenges with respect to signing out specimens. One of the biggest impacts of the pandemic, noted third-year resident Austin McHenry, was that the momentum of residency flailed. That momentum had been a driving force for many residents but, when COVID-19 hit, it ground almost to a halt.

Now that we are moving into a world where we are living with COVID-19 almost as we would any other infectious disease, residency looks much like it used to. It has bounced back from the dips experienced in 2020; momentum has returned. There is so much we can take from that time, though – lessons we can apply to fostering education and allowing it to thrive within residency, no matter what is happening outside the laboratory.

Despite the pandemic’s challenges, the RISE survey showed that it increased many residents’ interest in pathology. Perhaps this was due to the public spotlight on pathologists and medical laboratory professionals as keepers of the most relevant and up-to-date information on the virus. That sentiment, which has helped inform and educate so many over the past two years, is a role we must now instill in residents. It is imperative that they embrace their role as educators of the public. The laboratory holds the answers to a plethora of medical questions – and learning at the early stages of one’s career to showcase that knowledge to provide high-quality patient care is essential.

What’s more, the early months of the pandemic showed the ingenuity of the laboratory, as the need for laboratory-developed tests increased to better monitor the population in the battle against the virus. That creativity cannot be lost. In fact, that creativity is what cements the laboratory as the foundation of healthcare. Helping residents understand how to tap into that creativity will push them toward discoveries they might otherwise miss. This is especially important when we consider that the next pandemic is not a question of if, but rather when.

Today’s pathology residents are tomorrow’s leaders of the profession. What and how we teach them, and the skills and knowledge we imbue them with now, will undoubtedly affect how our profession is perceived – and practiced – in the future.

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About the Author
E. Blair Holladay

CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology

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