POP it like it's hot

The critical need for pathologist pipelines is real, and we’ve covered it in previous blogs as it relates to low-resource areas in sub-Saharan Africa. But even in resource-rich countries like the United States (U.S.), the need for more pathologists is a very real issue. And this issue is being tackled by two physicians: budding pathologist Casey Schukow, DO, PGY-1 Transitional Year Resident at ProMedica Monroe Regional Hospital (Monroe, MI), and Aadil Ahmed, MD, faculty hematopathologist and dermatopathologist at Rush Medical Center (Chicago, IL). They heard the call and responded with what could be described as a grassroots (or perhaps “pathroots”) operation. Drs. Casey and Aadil knew the road to the pathologists of tomorrow must begin with the high school students of today. In 2017, Aadil founded the Pathology Outreach Program, or POP, as it’s affectionately known. The main goal of POP is to help increase pathology and lab medicine awareness amongst high schoolers by bringing pathology into the classroom. Earlier this year, not long after Casey joined Twitter, he saw Aadil post about POP and reached out to him through Twitter to find out how he can get involved. After leading a POP session at his alma mater this past May, Casey joined POP as an ambassador and has been helping Aadil spread this initiative throughout the U.S. and beyond. We seized the opportunity to ask these poppin’ physicians some pop POP questions and here’s what Drs. Casey and Aadil had to say.


Instapath: What is the most common question you get from high school students?

Casey: When I took POP back to my hometown high school (in Saline, MI), the most common question I remember receiving was, “Hey Casey, why pathology?” I tell high school students that medicine, like many other fields, is really a team-based specialty. And within any team, you must find where you best fit (personality-wise, skill-wise, thought process-wise, etc.) After much time, and through gaining some exposure in the field, I found my best fit to be in pathology. This is the message I convey to high school students as they consider their own future career paths.


Instapath: How do you get students to care about pathology?

Casey: I think it's all about helping students see the impact pathologists can have in the healthcare setting. For example, at the end of the POP session, I went through several example patient presentations with corresponding histologic findings (courtesy of Aadil). During these examples, I explained to the students that pathologists may play vital roles in determining what type of leukemia is present, identifying a malignant melanoma versus a benign solar lentigo in a skin biopsy, etc.


Instapath: When you get a note of appreciation how does that make you feel?

Aadil: When I received dozens of hand-made cards for the first time, being overwhelmed would be an understatement. The heartfelt notes from the students not only validated the success of what we had done but also inspired us to keep up our spirits as we expand POP to even more schools. While these students may not share the passion I have for our field, it does make me excited to see that they are able to feel it.


Instapath: When you tell students about pathology, how do you cover the scope of it in the amount of time you have?

Aadil: I usually have an hour or so to tell them about pathology and, while I can talk all-day-every-day about pathology, you must know your audience. To have an impact, you must carefully select your topics and talk in a language that is most conducive and easy to understand. With the time we usually get, we talk about pathology as a medical field, misconceptions around it, its importance in patient care and career options. The objective is not necessarily to bring them to the field (which obviously would be great) but also help them become informed citizens and consumers of medicine in general.


Instapath: How has PathTwitter influenced POP?

Aadil: I started POP when I was a resident and, at that time, I was already part of the PathTwitter community thanks to my mentor Dr. Kamran Mirza (@KMirza), who was quite influential for me toward getting involved. Not only that, the PathTwitter community is highly welcoming and engaging. Twitter was also the easiest and most accessible platform to show our outreach efforts to the world and inspire others. Thanks to PathTwitter, we did succeed and the program has already jumped state lines.

Instapath: Where do you personally see pathology as a field going in the future?

Casey: Further digitization of slides and improvement in slide-sharing platforms (which both currently exist) come to my mind first. I have also heard and read interesting conversations regarding the utility of artificial intelligence (AI) to help mitigate “human error” in pathology. Having said this, I still have many more years of training and research ahead of me before I can really weigh-in on both topics.


Instapath: How can other pathologists, trainees and medical students take POP into their communities?

Casey: For POP, we have a PowerPoint presentation that Aadil put together when he first started the program and I have since updated it to include recent data, Twitter handles, etc. We encourage interested pathologists, trainees and medical students to reach out to us if they would like to take POP to their own communities so we can go over the presentation and its message. We have already received and implemented great feedback towards how to better improve the presentation. After meeting with us, interested participants should reach out to faculty and/or administrators at their local community academic settings (e.g., high schools, colleges, medical schools) to begin setting up dates and times for when they can lead the session. Pictures and posting of the experience on social media (while obtaining consent, of course) is highly encouraged, and please tag POP (@pathologyoutprogram) so we can further share/quote/retweet your impact!


Thank you, Dr. Casey Schukow and Dr. Aadil Ahmed, for sharing your passion for pathology and your efforts in filling the pathologist pipeline! We see POP blossoming across the country. For more information about POP, just contact Casey at casey.schukow@gmail.com or DM him on Twitter at @CaseyPSchukow. You can also reach Aadil on Twitter at @AadilAhmedMD.


To learn more about Luci, visit our Products page or email info@instapathbio.com. Instapath was founded in 2017 by the same engineers and scientists who developed the original prototypes. Our vision is to enable patients to immediately know their cancer diagnosis instead of waiting days or weeks for the results. Instapath builds microscopy platforms to improve patient care in the form of faster turnaround times and prevention of high risk and costly repeat biopsy procedures. Further, our goal is to provide users with a seamless, modernized digital pathology workflow with tools to complete all pathology evaluations needed to provide the most precise and efficient diagnoses for patients.