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  • Writer's pictureAlyse Gray

The Joys of Online Pathology Education

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

Coronavirus rapidly changed the way we do medical education. The internet became the source for conferences, lectures, and courses that might have otherwise only been held in person. For pathologists' assistants, the University Health Network of Toronto put on several all day online pathology conferences and donated the proceeds to COVID-19 relief. Numerous other professional pathology conferences went online as well. A group of pathologists got together over the internet to create a series of free online pathology courses for med students called Path Elective I had the opportunity to give a video lecture to Tulane pathologists' assistant students on embalming and autopsies that would have never happened if not for these extenuating circumstances.

Another thing I've come to deeply appreciate is pathology Twitter (#pathtwitter). This corner of Twitter has really taken off in the past year or so and has become an invaluable source of learning for me. Pathologists and pathologists' assistants post interesting and helpful case studies and are incredibly supportive of their colleagues. It's far more interactive and friendlier than a textbook or lecture. This is the pathology that I know and love.

Compare this to #medtwitter, which is, with a few exceptions, essentially filled with complaining about "the system" that they're perpetuating, drama, occasional doxxing to employers (most people use pseudonyms to protect themselves), and for those who use their real names, harassment, to the point of threatening family members or suing the person over an online disagreement, is not uncommon. And it's not surprising. With some exceptions, the medical profession likes to break people down and make them egocentric, unkind, and overly competitive (although some of them were that way to begin with). I went to medical school for two months as part of my PA program and watched it firsthand. It turned me off so much that I don't have a primary care physician and haven't had a regular check-up in 10 years. When I'm sick I'd rather see an empathetic physician assistant or NP at an urgent care center than an egomaniac physician who only learned competition in medical school instead of empathy and listening skills. It's not a wonder that the general public mistrusts medicine. If you want to fix "the system," open more medical schools and reduce this harmful level of competition that doesn't benefit patients. But that's a topic for another day. Anyway, Pathology Twitter is not like this at all. In my opinion, it's how medicine should be: caring. People know how to be professional, share helpful information, don't tear others down, and, with the exception of some medical examiners, actually use their real names. This is the kind of thing that restores my faith in medicine.

Medical examiners cannot always use their real names because, in the instance of high profile cases, if the autopsy report does not show what the general public expects, they may react strongly, sometimes to the point of harassment with death threats to the medical examiner and their family. For instance, the medical examiner who reported the death of Kenneka Jenkins, an intoxicated woman who wandered into an industrial freezer, passed out and died from hypothermia, was repeatedly harassed and threatened online for reporting that Jenkins' death was alcohol-related. Many people, upset about her death, felt she was murdered, despite video evidence of her wandering into the freezer alone and no signs of a struggle on her body, and took their frustrations out on someone who only reported the only the facts (no evidence of a struggle, blood alcohol content, etc). The medical examiner who performed George Floyd's autopsy and reported that his death was, in fact, a police-related homicide, needed to go into hiding and had his office closed several times after receiving multiple threats when the press misconstrued his findings. In light of the recent social turmoil, multiple medical examiners have chosen to use nicknames or pseudonyms on social media. With the exception of medical examiners, for obvious personal safety reasons, pathologists and pathologists' assistants have the opportunity to make great professional connections through social media.

Online education will never be a substitute for in-person learning, particularly when it comes to dissection, but it can still be a great way to make new connections and learn new things. When it comes to pathology, and medicine in general, it's impossible to know everything and we must always be adding to our knowledge to keep up with an ever-changing field. Expanding one's knowledge outside of their usual lab practice is extremely beneficial (and also required for maintaining a PA certification or medical license), and when it can be done from the convenience of home instead of traveling to a conference setting, the opportunity to learn new things only increases. I see this as extremely positive and hope that in the future online learning will continue.

Alyse admittedly enjoys scrolling through #pathtwitter on Saturday morning.

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