Fixation on Histology

Say My Name: Recognition in Histology

The most intimate form of recognition of another’s ability is to ask them for advice, and as a newer histotechnologist, I find myself asking for advice rather often from my senior colleagues. The best advice I received was to be patient with both myself, and the tissue, and the sections would turn out. From my fellow techs, the theme was to treat our profession as an art form and focus on the final product and not how many products I could create. A similar debate regarding expected output played out on a histology Facebook group I follow, which devolved into a conversation about how the numbers mean nothing without the context of what the tissue is, how it was fixed, and when it was placed in fixative. The consensus was recognition between colleagues was through the quality of one’s work, not quantity. In the talk “Leading to Happiness in Pathology”, which was part of the 2022 NSH Convention, the speaker, Dr. Gerelyn Henry shared similar sentiments that patients will not receive the best care if we are focusing on output rather than the quality of said output and the condition of those who produce it.

How then, do we go about recognizing staff in a genuine manner that makes them want to come to work, improve, and share their experiences thus attracting others to the profession? Unlike our compatriots in the hospitals, we do not interact directly with patients or share a visible role in their stories despite playing an intimate one in their outcomes. In fact, it often seems we are ghosts in the pipeline of patient care, a forgotten step between surgery and pathologist interpretation. Thus, we rely on leadership to act as the bridge between us and patients, to know we’re having a positive impact. However, as a profession this is not enough to ensure our survival.
We have a challenge in histology of attracting staff and recognition. Recognition starts within the lab, acknowledging how hard your techs are working with limited staffing, when blocks turn out with that clean diagonal, or a slide looks pristine. The occasional acknowledgment within the lab will vastly improve overall job satisfaction. Failing this, we become little more than machines churning out numbers rather than the artists we are. In the NSH delegates meeting the problem of awareness and staffing was discussed, and I have to wonder if we’ve thought about approaching this challenge as artists rather than scientists.

With the rise in digital technology, we have more pictures of our slides than ever. More evidence of our work. Why not partner with hospitals to use these pictures as artwork, or provide prints to patients who have overcome the pathology therein to give them something tangible to hold and say they ‘beat’ or burn in a bonfire to participate in the ‘destruction’ of the disease? Participating tangibly in patient healing not only would likely increase patient satisfaction, but that of the technician in fostering that connection to the patient as a person and not just their pieces. Nothing is more abstract and worthy of study than the chaos our own cells like to get up to. By proudly displaying evidence of our existence onto hospital walls, creating accounts in the public sphere to share images, and infiltrating galleries of museums as special exhibits where those of all ages can wander in, we can foster awareness and interest beyond just relying on newcomers to embark on an Odyssey of self-discovery that somehow lands them in histology.

Our slides can mean more than passing interest for academia or study in the circumstance resurgence of disease, they can directly impact patient emotional healing from the trauma of losing a piece of their physical self. Sharing our art with the public sphere, and not just some lucky pathologists, will likely increase not only our personal job satisfaction, but help combat retention and recruitment by giving direct evidence of our existence and significant contribution towards patient care.

Written by:  Ashley Degner, BS, MS, HT (ASCP)

2022 Convention Student Leadership Scholarship Recipient





12-31-2022 08:56

I enjoyed your article and agree. However the quantity vs quality statement needs to begin with the Pathologist. The push for TAT compromises the quality issue, especially with difficult tissues. Quantity comes with experience, quality should be number one priority.

12-16-2022 15:02

Beautifully stated and written.