College of American Pathologists
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  President’s Desk






June 2006
Being grateful and giving back

Thomas M. Sodeman, MD

I’m told there was an OB/GYN who attended the American Medical Association meetings for many years who had a memorable reply to a routine greeting. When someone said, “Hello, how are you?” he wouldn’t say, “Fine, how are you?” Instead, he would smile gently, pause for a moment, and say “Grateful.”

Though I didn’t know this physician, I got to thinking recently about his reply. What some people call an “attitude of gratitude” is a byproduct of the habitual pursuit of happiness, which goes hand-in-hand with the comfortable discipline of lifelong learning. Like-minded people are drawn to collegial environments where others share similar intellectual appetites. And there is no better place for that than the CAP.

Within the College, scientific committees pursue our mission, which is to advance the state-of-the-art of pathology. The Council on Scientific Affairs is an educational machine that hums beneath the radar of almost everything we do. Twenty-four scientific resource committees support the work of Surveys alone, developing consensus recommendations and benchmarking the work of thousands of laboratories around the world. If College volunteers did nothing more than manage proficiency testing and write cancer protocols, we would have earned our place on the planet many times over. But they do a lot more than that.

Some 3,500 pathologists are active in the work of the College. We serve on scientific committees; we act as Laboratory Accreditation Program inspectors; we create online courses and audioconferences on everything from molecular pathology to medical coding. One pathologist structures the Q-Probes, and her neighboring colleague is monitoring the Q-Tracks. Those of us who have volunteered for the Laboratory Management Index Program probably know as much about benchmarking as anyone in the country. As a member of the Practice Management Committee, I was introduced to forward-thinking approaches to quality improvement. When I chaired the Instrumentation Committee, countless hours were spent on practice guidelines to measure linearity. We learned from one another, we created tools to share what we knew, and we brought it all back to our laboratories.

The Education Committee devotes considerable resources to supporting the pathologist as medical director of the laboratory responsible for managing and training staff. Next year, the College will launch online tools offering a convenient, standardized way to conduct, track, and report competency assessment and training for laboratory testing personnel. This will include biannual competency assessment courses in all major disciplines, customized modules tailored to an institution’s needs, and instrument-specific observation checklists. Nine disciplines, including blood banking, chemistry, hematology and coagulation, immunology, and microbiology, will be among the initial choices.

The Laboratory Accreditation Program, the original purpose of which isimproving laboratory quality by educating in best practices, also has a regulatory role. LAP checklists establish a variety of best practices in our specialty and elevate the quality of laboratory testing. Members of scientific committees who help to write those checklists know they make an enduring contribution to our science. LAP inspectors can testify to the value of those checklists and the intellectual benefits of their work.

Like the accreditation program, Surveys is a program with a regulatory role and a core purpose of education. College members on Surveys-related committees monitor test results and write educational critiques. They also create tools that introduce laboratory personnel to educational analytes, unusual specimens that are not a part of the regulatory program.

All of this benefits our members and our patients. Consider the work of the College in ensuring consistent results in prothrombin time, or PT, testing. Patients on Coumadin are followed with PT testing, which is expressed in terms of the International Normalized Ratio, or INR. Through Surveys, the College has been able to educate laboratory staff around the world about the importance of the INR standard, which means that clinicians everywhere can rely on a universal expression of those results. PT INR is a good example of the ways that CAP education, running beneath the radar, links quality laboratory medicine to patient safety.

The hands-on courses at our annual meeting are first-rate, as are the networking opportunities that go along with them. For independent learning, pathologists have come to rely on the Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine for cutting-edge science in pathology, and on CAP TODAY for in-depth discussion of clinical, management, business, regulatory, and other issues.

College leaders have always understood the critical importance of political education and a vigorous presence in the nation’s capital to protect patient safety and promote the science of pathology. To that end, the Council on Government and Professional Affairs oversees our staff in producing communications such as “Statline” and managing the annual advocacy school. Our experience in educating legislators and regulators, and our ability to call upon members who are prepared to advocate effectively, have enabled the College to counter onerous regulatory proposals and protect patient safety. At the same time, our Council on Membership and Professional Development coordinates a spokesperson training program whose graduates were mentioned more than 16,000 times by name in the public media in 2005.

It is our good fortune that education is our avocation and our mission. The College has made a cultural commitment to lifelong learning, and our members respond in predictable ways. Those who appreciate what they have are always the first to give back. We are fortunate to have an intellectual and cultural home where so many of us can enjoy the pursuit. I, for one, am grateful for that.

Dr. Sodeman welcomes communication from CAP members. Write to him at