College of American Pathologists
Printable Version

  President’s Desk Column


cap today

CAP ’04 captures the big picture

October 2004
Mary E. Kass, MD

As I write this on the evening of the last day of CAP ’04, I’m feeling a lot of satisfaction, a certain gratified fatigue, and some residual euphoria. We’ve had four wonderful days of fabulous courses and nonstop opportunities to plug in and charge up. CAP ’04 has been a minisabbatical—refreshing, relaxing, and energizing at once.

Pathologists have many roles, and most of us enjoy the juggling. But competing demands can be mesmerizing. It’s easy to get so busy with the mechanics of keeping all those balls in the air that you forget the simple truths that drove you to take on the job in the first place. When that happens, you need a reality check.

CAP ’04 was just that, a chance to let go of the details and go with the flow. Although this meeting was less about "go with the flow" than "ride with the tide." The energy has been phenomenal. The excitement and good feeling have been abundant. The level of engagement in workshops and tutorials has been incredible. It’s a real thrill to be surrounded by so many fine minds, to learn directly from the biggest names in our field, to sit at a roundtable with people who are doing groundbreaking work in pathology.

This meeting would have been a success on the strength of education alone, but that was only half the fun. The energy carried over into wonderful evenings, opportunities to renew old friendships and network with colleagues from across the country. On Sunday afternoon, our spotlight event featured verbal sparring between Mary Matalin and her husband, James Carville, two bright people with dramatically different political viewpoints. At the Western Party on Monday night, we shared salsa with the small children of our younger members and learned to line dance with lab partners from our video microscopy tutorials. All week long, people came up to me and said things like, "This is the first time I have been to a CAP meeting and it’s the best. I feel like I belong."

And that’s it in a nutshell, the big picture. CAP ’04 is reality-check central, a homecoming for our professional family, a celebration of our shared commitment, our mutual respect, and our determination to create a bright future for the young pathologists who will follow in our path.

One of my favorite events started out as an experiment. The idea was to give everyone an opportunity to bring questions and concerns directly to the leadership, to get an answer on the spot and create a dialogue. But even when I was talking as fast as I could to convince the planning committee to do a members’ town meeting, I wasn’t sure that anybody would show up.

When I walked into the room a few minutes before 5:30 on Tuesday afternoon, I was a little worried. Our ever-optimistic and energetic staff had arranged for what looked to be at least 100 chairs. It was so late in the day. Would anybody come? Would we be able to keep them awake? And what were we going to do with all those empty chairs?

Well, 10 minutes later it was standing room only and the place was buzzing. My favorite moment was probably when somebody stood up to say that his practice income from Medicare Part A had dropped 30 percent in the last year. Was anyone else, he asked, having this problem?

I threw it open to the group. "How many people get Part A?" I asked. About 90 percent of my colleagues raised their hands.

"How many have seen a 20 percent decrease in their Part A income over the past five years?" Only about five people raised their hands.

"How many have seen an increase in their Part A income in the last five years?" A huge number raised their hands.

So we talked about that. Somebody mentioned the excellent course and roundtable discussion on legal and practical considerations in billing for Part A services that had been held on Monday morning. Now our colleagues know that their problems have solutions.

This spontaneous bit of networking was exactly what CAP ’04 was supposed to be about. Daily practice is a lot about the little picture; we have our small battles and our larger ones. But those are just the details. Nobody is alone in this. We are part of a very powerful support system, and each of us belongs.

I was struck by something Mary Matalin said during the Sunday afternoon spotlight event. She sometimes worries, she said, about the kind of world her daughters will be living in. What will be their quality of life? Are we giving them something to build on?

When she said that, I looked at the five wonderful high school students whose projects had been selected by our judges at the Central Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair as winners of the CAP Path to a Future in Medicine competition. I looked at the residents and young physicians in the group. And my thoughts echoed her prayers.

CAP ’04 was wonderful, but I know I’ll need a booster. So I’m scheduling another reality check for Sept. 11-14, 2005 in Chicago. Please plan to join us at CAP ’05, and plan to bring your family. It’s a wonderful event.

Dr. Kass welcomes communication from CAP members. Send your letters to her at