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Outside the Lab Profession, Training and education

Toward a Higher Profile

When I had my first interview for a pathology training post 25 years ago, I was asked why I was wasting my time applying for a job that would soon be made redundant by advances such as immunohistochemistry and computerization. The same question is being asked now, although it’s artificial intelligence and genomics that are being proposed as a threat to the specialty. My response remains the same: we should make the most of the new technologies available to us, adapting how we train and work as appropriate, but not worry that we might soon be unemployed. Pathologists and scientists remain a vital part of the healthcare workforce and it is essential that enough people are attracted to the specialty to meet present and future patient needs.

But how many is enough? Workforce planning is an almost impossible task in all medical specialties – and pathology is no exception. The lead time for training pathologists and senior scientists is so long that it is difficult to match the number of people entering training with the number of specialists that may be required at the end of it. With changes in test complexity, technology, working patterns, and service reconfigurations, it’s hard to know exactly how many specialists are needed now, let alone in five or 10 years’ time. What is clear is that pathologists will continue to be in demand – and that we won’t be replaced by robots or computers in the foreseeable future. 

Much is already being done to attract the next generation of pathologists – from talks in schools and short courses for medical students to university pathology clubs and placements for doctors in training. Social media has transformed the way pathologists communicate with each other and with the public. Initiatives such as National Pathology Week, International Pathology Day and Medical Laboratory Professionals Week help highlight the vital role of pathologists in healthcare. What all of these approaches have in common is that they increase the visibility of pathology. Being able to appreciate the contribution of the specialty, learn from inspirational role models, and feel welcome and valued as a trainee are all vital when it comes to overcoming the negative stereotype of pathologists (antisocial loners with no communication skills – who don’t like patients).

Pathology is an exciting and rewarding specialty, never more so than in the current climate of rapid technological advances. We must share that excitement to inspire the pathologists and scientists of tomorrow. This issue’s focus on encouraging pathology recruitment is important and timely, and gives much food for thought. 

Suzy Lishman


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About the Author
Suzy Lishman

Suzy Lishman CBE is Consultant Histopathologist at North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, and immediate past president of the Royal College of Pathologists.

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