The Power of #PathArt
Social media initiatives like the popular #PathArt hashtag draw attention to pathology and help distant lab medicine professionals connect
At a Glance
- Lab medicine professionals have a unique sense of humor – including on social media, with trends like the #PathArt hashtag
- #PathArt participants look for recognizable images, usually in tissue samples, and then share them with friends and colleagues
- Community-building initiatives like social media hashtags allow pathologists to get acquainted with distant colleagues
- Fun, accessible online interactions also draw the public eye – and play a key role in promoting pathology
One of pathology’s most enduring stereotypes – and one that lab medicine professionals are trying their hardest to overcome – is that of the pathologist as “basement dweller” or “microscope lover” whose main source of joy is an interesting slice of tissue or smear of blood. But pathologists themselves know that this isn’t the case at all. In fact, the lab is often a prime example of “work hard, play hard.” The work done by lab medicine professionals is as difficult as it is vital, so those who do it enjoy being able to see the lighter side of their chosen discipline while exercising their creativity. And community-building isn’t the only benefit of “fun” pathology – it also helps to draw attention to the field and make it more approachable to trainees and the general public.
Parabasal cell with a smile by @NejibY
A basal cell carcinoma looking back, by @RyanHickMD
Thyroid "rock band" cytopathology by @GeronimoJrLapac
Massive crystal storing histiocytosis by @evenmariecrane
Colon daisies: this is one posy you may not want to sniff! By @IHeartHisto
Nothing says 'Happy Holidays' better than a Pap smear Christmas Tree. By @IHeartHisto
A tympanic membrane-bow from an otitis media crust by @IHeartHisto
An impressive glandular alphabet, collected by Ivy Clemente and posted by @NormanZerbe
#PathArt with a purpose
A prime example of this lightheartedness is the popular Twitter hashtag #PathArt, created in March 2015 by pathologist and social media guru Jerad Gardner. Countless pathologists use Twitter for personal and professional development. They follow up-to-the-moment news, liaise with professional societies, represent their hospitals and research groups, and find others online who share their interests. And when a group of like-minded pathologists get together on the Internet, what results is a burst of histology-based creativity.
#PathArt images arise when a sample, most often a tissue section, looks like something else under the microscope – anything from a classical painting to the Death Star. What would formerly have been the source of a chuckle for one or two microscope users has now become a popular trend, and the likenesses are getting more imaginative every day.
#PathArt is certainly generating a community. Not only has the tag encouraged pathologists to share their images, but it’s stimulating discussion as well. Those who use it compliment one another on particularly beautiful images, offer advice on unusual cases, and even debate which popular characters a given tissue section most closely resembles. Far from hiding behind their microscopes, these pathologists are using them as a tool for communication. And not just among professionals – many of the tweets are pitched at a level accessible to outsiders, so that even students and members of the public can appreciate them. pH7, an undergraduate student science blog from the University of Sheffield, UK, recently featured the #PathArt hashtag, along with a selection of their favorite examples (1), showing that even those with no histology training can get in on the fun.
Marrow Christmas & Happy New Smear! A very seasonal red bone marrow smear by @IHeartHisto
Giant osteoclastic #jellyfish in a sea of malignant osteoblasts by @JeradGardnerMD
Oh deer! It's an appendix testis! By @IHeartHisto
Schwaan cells in non-myelinated nerves look like Cookie Monster in cross-section, by @IHeartHisto
That's no moon, it's a cluster of endometrial cells! By @AmyHDeekenMD
Inverted embryonic mandible mimicking a muppet by @IHeartHisto.
Creating a community
Why is online community-building so important for pathologists? Medicine is becoming ever more globalized. Where you might once have been limited to colleagues at your institution for a consultation, or had to lose days or weeks mailing slides to distant locations, you can now send digital images in seconds. Knowing who your worldwide colleagues are, where they work, and what specialties and skillsets they have can be the key to solving a difficult diagnostic puzzle – so the more pathologists get to know one another, even through “fun” interactions, the better. Not only that, but it allows lab-based professionals to reach out to patients and the public.
It’s as vital as ever to destroy the antisocial stereotypes that plague the field. We’ve covered the problems these stereotypes cause before (2) – medical students are dissuaded from considering pathology by its reputation, leading to widespread personnel shortages, and patients fail to understand the pathologist’s role in their care. It’s a problem we hear about again and again; in this issue’s interview with Fred Bosman, professor emeritus at the University Medical Center of Lausanne, Switzerland, he told us, “It’s important to get the public eye on pathology… We should be much more actively engaged in interaction with the public, teaching them who we are and showing them the importance of what we do.” At a time when pathology must move to the forefront of patient care to keep its edge, practitioners can’t afford to be held back by misperceptions. Engaging people with interesting facts and visuals in a casual environment like a social media platform is one way of reaching out and showing them what pathology is really like.
Of course, Twitter isn’t the only platform pathologists can use for outreach, and #PathArt isn’t the only hashtag to explore. Laboratory medicine is slowly making its way into the public eye through initiatives as diverse as the @BellinghamSkull Twitter account (featuring short messages from a skull “hanging out at the back of Barts Pathology Museum”), GomerBlog (see "Satirical Stressbuster"), I Heart Guts (which manufactures plush organs that come with educational booklets) and GIANTmicrobes (showcasing friendly-looking plush versions of human pathogens and more). Things like this not only appeal to fun-loving pathologists, but get non-experts talking about science, medicine, and what happens in the lab – a critical part of promoting the profession.
GomerBlog is a medical satire blog whose posts reach medical students and professionals around the world. With headlines like “Surgeon Sends Lunch For Frozen Section” and “ED Consults Pathology on Acute Abdomen Just to ‘Make Them Aware’,” their articles are read, shared and commented upon by pathologists at all levels – usually because they strike a chord. We spoke to Doktor Schnabel von Rom, one of the blog’s founders, to ask how their creative outlet came about.
What prompted you to start GomerBlog?
The idea was created in our anesthesia break room. While taking a break, we started talking about funny satire websites and asked ourselves, “What’s out there for medicine?” A quick search didn’t come up with many recent or overwhelmingly funny sites, and thus the idea was born. The name “GomerBlog” came naturally, as we’re huge fans of the novel House of God and wanted a slang term that only healthcare professionals would “get.” Once we had the site name, the articles flowed from there.
Who are your readers?
We’re all over the place – with doctors, nurses, residents, interns, medical students, nursing students, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and many other healthcare professionals.
Who are your writers?
Most of our contributors are physicians, but we are always on the lookout for other professions. Of the medical specialties, most of our writers are internists or hospitalists, but we are really all over the place. We have one pathologist, P.E. Coma, who gives us fantastic pathology articles!
Why do you think the blog is so popular?
Healthcare professionals need an outlet. Medicine is stressful and humor has always been a relief valve for many. We hope to provide a smile for a nurse or a chuckle for a physician to make their days just a little bit better. We think that, as medical professionals write the articles, our fans appreciate the realness of the articles because we’re right there in the thick of it with them, so they know we really “get it.” Most of my articles have come from issues I’ve actually seen at work.
What has the reception been like among pathologists?
I think it has been great. P.E. Coma probably played a significant role in garnering more pathology fans. We received a lot of comments on one of our satirical pieces (http://bit.ly/1nkPl33) about how believable it was. But as with all of our specialties, we like to poke fun at pathology, too. As an anesthesiologist, the paperwork involved with blood product administration is always a touchy subject in our field, so we had to write about it (http://bit.ly/1Q7IOE5 and http://bit.ly/1JMjjXr).
What’s your favorite example of pathologist creativity online?
We were totally impressed with the “Thrift Lab” video that parodies Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.” (Watch the video at http://bit.ly/1Nq6QaY.) That was one of the greatest satire videos ever.