College of American Pathologists
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  President’s Desk


CAP Today

Stanley J. Robboy MD, FCAP
Stanley J. Robboy, MD




April 2012

Stanley J. Robboy, MD

CAP learning portal opens doors

Early in residency, I moved into the upper floors of a house in Boston that had been boarded up for 50 years. A plaque attached to the exterior read, “Home of Lewis Hayden.” I didn’t know who Hayden was, but his name came up repeatedly in biographies of Massachusetts abolitionists who were active at the time of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Over the next three years, I found myself digging through newspaper archives, rare books, and land court records, and meeting many people with an interest in American history. The more I learned about him, the more curious I became.

I discovered that my home at 66 Phillips Street had been a key station on the Underground Railroad, a network of abolitionists who helped fugitive slaves escape their owners. Hayden was mentioned in nearly every major incident involving slaves transported through Boston. Some entered a portal in his subbasement leading to a tunnel ending at the Charles River. Although the tunnel had long been sealed, on my last day in that house I met an elderly man who had seen fugitive slaves disappear through that tunnel en route to freedom.

Hayden, who had taught himself to read when he was a slave owned by Sen. Henry Clay, had himself been a fugitive. He and his family had settled briefly in Detroit, where he founded a school for black children. In Boston, Hayden started a clothing store and quickly became a leader of the abolitionist movement. He became the first black person elected to the Massachusetts legislature in 1873.

I wanted to open this column with Lewis Hayden because his story helped me appreciate the link between education and the freedom to achieve—a lesson that bears repeating.

This fall, we will mark our 10th independent annual meeting. CAP ’03 was the first step in what would become the robust, diverse package of cutting-edge educational opportunities known as CAP Learning. We took another important step last fall when we launched the CAP learning portal, developed in collaboration with Amirsys, a firm that specializes in physician education and diagnostic decision support products.

The learning portal provides access to innovative educational opportunities in a rich, coordinated palette of learning options that makes it not only easy but also fun to construct an individual learning plan and track your progress toward Maintenance of Certification. Constance Filling, vice president for CAP Learning, explains that accessing the learning portal via a tab on the CAP home page introduces a host of options constructed to drive choices that map closely to your learning goals. The portal makes it easy to find and subscribe to lectures, self-assessment modules (SAMs), advanced practical pathology programs (AP3s), webinars, guidelines from the CAP Pathology and Laboratory Quality Center, checklists from CAP committees, articles in the literature, and links to education offered by partnering organizations.

CAP Learning brings to fruition the work of leaders across the College. The first Council on Education, chaired by Elizabeth Hammond, MD, collaborated with experts on our scientific committees to frame the critical competency goals for CAP Learning and identify outcome measures against which to evaluate progress. William Hickey, MD, succeeded Dr. Hammond as chair of the council, and Gail Vance, MD, succeeded him. Many member volunteers framed CAP Learning and enabled the October 2011 launch of the learning portal. As Dr. Vance puts it, those who built the portal have understood that learning opportunities mapped to match intellectual interests and career goals will build knowledge, sharpen and broaden skills, and change behaviors, creating the competencies and confidence required to pursue a more diverse practice.

The AP3s, for example, are content-driven, evidence-driven, expert-driven, and hands-on. Like all of CAP Learning, they are relentlessly practical. Data show that more than 90 percent of those who have completed the Breast Predictive Factors and Fine Needle Aspiration AP3s have reported making changes in their practices as a result. CAP president-elect Gene Herbek, MD, who has taught the Breast Predictive Factors AP3, reports that participants enhance their diagnostic skill and develop a better understanding of keys to prognosis and consultative technique. Our most important job is still to get the diagnosis right, Dr. Herbek says, but a true consultation is much more than that: The AP3 broadens what the pathologist brings to the table. Advanced knowledge and skill, he says, makes the pathologist a more comfortable consultant and more effective patient advocate on the medical care team.

Dr. Hammond, who now chairs the Pathology and Laboratory Quality Center, explains that Sandi Larsen and other members of the Center staff work to ensure that the Center guidelines used to drive AP3 programs are also applied in a coordinated way across relevant CAP activities. Once guidelines are issued, the Center staff sits down with partners in education, accreditation, and proficiency testing to talk about how best to embed them in checklists and procedures. Guidelines must produce meaningful changes in pathology practice, Dr. Hammond says, and the Center staff closes the loop by working with those who will implement those best practices across the College. The construct is simple and elegant.

At a time when the Harvard Medical School did not admit black students, Lewis and Harriet Hayden found a simple and elegant way to close another loop by directing that their estate be used to establish a scholarship for “needy and worthy colored students” who were accepted to the Harvard Medical School.

Just as the Haydens understood that education and freedom were linked, CAP Learning ensures that pathologists are free to select from a variety of excellent options for continuing education within a system that will track their progress toward Maintenance of Certification. CAP members will traverse the learning portal to reach their chosen goals via the paths they select—and with the ready assistance of their peers.

Dr. Robboy welcomes communication from CAP members. Send your letters to him at