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A New Era for the Pathologists' Assistant

A New Era for the Pathologists' Assistant

Voicebrook is honored to feature guest blogger Dennis Strenk, PA (ASCP).

Dennis is a pathologists’ assistant (PA) at Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories and the creator and host of the People of Pathology podcast.

I’m honored to be writing this guest post to celebrate Pathologists’ Assistants Day (#PathAssistDay). This year PA Day is extra special because it is also the 50th anniversary of the American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants. While it is important to remember how far we have come, I think it’s even more important to look ahead.

I have been a pathologists’ assistant for 19 years now. During that time we’ve achieved national certification through ASCP, and we have slowly gained more recognition for the role we play in patient care. Through my involvement with the AAPA, I have seen our profession grow and evolve.

The way I started in this field is non-traditional. When I tell that story I often say that I found the field by accident. But whatever the reason for that accident, I’m glad that it happened. I love the work that I do, and I love the people with whom I get to do that work. I get to see interesting things every single day. I get to impact the lives of patients every day. My job is personally rewarding for me, and that’s not something everyone can say.

9CF5A655-5A65-417F-B9F2-81E8F950A5BBHeather Manternach, Becky Stankowski, Nicole Schmidt, and Dennis Strenk
Image courtesy of Dennis Strenk, PA (ASCP)

Over the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing over one hundred people in pathology and laboratory medicine on the People of Pathology Podcast. While there have been many common themes throughout those interviews, I think there is one that stands out the most: It is an exciting time to be in pathology and laboratory medicine. The so-called third revolution in pathology, the digital revolution, is underway. With it are new technologies, and new instruments, that I find exciting. Some may wonder if there will be a place for the pathologists’ assistant in this new digital world. I believe that there is and that we will be even more valuable, not less.

In recent years, some pathologists’ assistants have been expanding their roles outside of the typical job duties. There will always be a need for the examination of tissue specimens, and PAs are uniquely qualified to do that. But our skills are applicable in other areas too. Biobanking is one of these areas because proper tissue selection is vital. Another even more recent area is forensics. This is still somewhat controversial, but with the massive shortage of forensic pathologists, there must be a way that PAs can alleviate some of the burden. These are just two examples of how the role of the pathologists’ assistant is expanding, but there are more.

There are now 12 pathologists’ assistant programs in the United States, and 3 in Canada. Interest in our field is growing, and not just in North America. There are similar positions, with different titles, in Turkey, Brazil, Germany, and other countries. Clearly, the usefulness of the pathologists’ assistant is becoming more well known. I hope that one day we may see an international collaboration among these groups.

When I talk to PA students or recent graduates, I am impressed by their passion and excitement for our field. I do not worry about the future, because I know it is in very good hands. I look forward to seeing how this upcoming generation of pathologists’ assistants will advance our field.

Throughout my career, I have worked with many pathologists. I have always felt valued, recognized, and appreciated. I am thankful for that. It is an exciting time to be in pathology, and I think it’s even more exciting to be a PA. To my pathologists’ assistant colleagues, I hope that you feel the same. A Happy PA Day to you all!

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Thank you to Dennis Strenk for authoring this guest post for the Voicebrook blog!

Follow Dennis on Twitter @dstrenkPA.