Friday, January 25, 2013

A new student blog...

As one student graduates, a new one begins! A new WVU student has started a blog about her experience as a Pathologists' Assistant student and can be found here. Welcome to her and good luck in her program!!

Job Hunting for a Pathologist Assistant position

This would be another approach, I suppose... :)
In the internet age, one starts with the websites... At the moment I keep an eye on the AAPA website (or facebook feed, or twitter feed, whichever one happens to be easier to access at the moment), the ASCP website,, and

I prefer the AAPA website because it only lists PA jobs and tends to give you more targeted information about the positions like number of pathologists, the number of surgical cases and autopsies a year, the beds in the hospital, and general information about the practice. The only downside to the AAPA job listings is that there are only a few posted each week.

The listings on the ASCP site give good information as well but there are only a few on there along with jobs for other ASCP certified positions.

Indeed and Simplyhired update far more often, but the jobs are mixed in with so many others (right now Speech Pathologists Assistants are the bane of my search history! :D Although all other kinds of random medically related assistants are also showing up) that you might search 20 pages and only see a handful of relevant job openings. Plus, many of the jobs are reposts from recruiters. It is time consuming.

Word of mouth and networking can also be invaluable. Probably more helpful once I actually have a more developed network or if I had a more specific location in mind. One of my classmates has benefited from networking already, and it was nice how helpful on the staff PAs was about making inquires on his behalf.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This week in frozens

This is my third week at Duke North on this rotation, which means I'm doing triage/frozens.

Pinned specimen from this site
Triage varies by specimen, but almost everything gets weighed, measured, or both. Margins may be taken, specimens may be inked for orientation, and opened up or bread loafed (sectioned but not cut all the way through) to allow better formalin fixation. Some specimens may be pinned out on cork boards so they fix in the shape they are pinned into (useful for things like an esophagogastrectomy). And everything gets put into adequate formalin. Larger specimens are held until the next day for grossing, which is nice when you're a student picking out the cases you'd like to do for the next day.

Where I worked before didn't do that much with triage. Sometimes we would open the colon specimens, and sometimes we would ink mastectomies for orientation and bread loaf them. Colons and breasts were held until the next day, but everything else was grossed the day we got it. Most of our specimens were received in formalin, but larger things like spleen and liver were usually not. And being in formalin isn't the same thing as being received in enough formalin! Sometimes there was so much specimen crammed into a container that there was just a splash of fixative on it and most of the tissue was still unfixed. So I can appreciate that the PAs or residents doing triage at Duke are the ones ensuring there is enough fixative, and that there is enough flexibility on the the turn around time that things can be held for a day.

Frozen sections are interesting. We go with the staff PA or resident to the operating room and are handed the tissue of interest to take back to the gross room. Then we triage the specimen and whatever section(s) we need are taken and given to the techs. The techs section the tissue and stain the slides. The staff PA works with the tissue bank/research folks to provide needed tissues at that time as well if they can. The pathologist reading frozens that day may see the specimen or ask for additional sections, but once they are done the specimen is put into formalin and accessioned.

It has been nicely steady and I've gotten to work with one of the staff PAs that I haven't worked with before. Plus, I've worked with several residents which isn't something that happens often when we're at Duke North. It is good to get to learn from so many different people.

In other news, today is my dad's birthday! We had a small family celebration at home. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Job hunting thoughts

Things I require:
First shift (working something between 6 am and 6:30 pm)
Minimal weekend call, if any
Competitive salary

Things I would like but don't require:
Pleasant work environment
PAs report directly to a pathologist or PA
Complex specimens (not necessarily all complex specimens, but enough that I feel challenged)
Possible non-grossing duties (teaching, administrative tasks, etc)
3 weeks vacation (or PTO vs vacation + sick days)
Competitive 401K*
Medical/Dental (Vision would be nice too)
Medium sized city or larger
Somewhere there is snow at least every now and then

Edit: Other things that would be nice: Paid relocation expenses and decent parking situation. 

There are a lot of different things that factor into job satisfaction and there is a much to be said for having good coworkers, so I'm trying not to have too many hard and fast requirements. I spent three and a half years working second shift and missing out on my family. I made a decent income, especially for the city where I lived, but I didn't want to be on those hours for the rest of my life. And, of course, increased earning potential is one of the reasons I went to graduate school. It came along with a not-insignificant amount of student loan debt so there are reasons beyond personal financial goals that I put competitive salary on that list.

* says "Companies contributed an average of 4.1% of participants' pay to the plan,". It is important that people understand the basics... a surprising misunderstanding I've run across is that it is money taken out of your salary instead of money saved in addition to your salary.  401k has to be factored in when you're considering compensation... but it can get confusing for a lot of people. My first real job only matched funds (so there was no minimum, if the employee didn't contribute they didn't earn anything), but matched 100% up to 3% of my salary and then 50% up to 9% for a maximum of 6%. Some employers pay without requiring an employee match, and some will pay their minimum amount as long as the employee contributes any amount. It varies by company. There is also profit sharing to consider and then combination plans.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oh Durham, I love you.

Southern Living Names Durham One of the "Tastiest Towns in the South" in 2013 

I was trying to articulate to my mother this past week some of the very many reasons it will break my heart to have to move away from here and start a new life somewhere far away (although, seriously, I'm claiming Durham as my hometown after this) and the food scene was one of the topics that I brought up. It isn't just the farmer's markets, the food trucks, the farm to table restaurants, the bakeries, the local, the sustainable, the being known and knowing to owners and counter staff... it is the community that supports it. It is living among people who are involved with and support that food scene. 

Which reminds me, food truck rodeo coming up at the end of the month. I need to plan accordingly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Feedback varies depending on the surgical pathology rotation. At the VA we see the slides made from our sections the day after they are cut in during slide sign out. It is good because we can see how our sections look microscopically while we're there and the pathologist can give real time constructive criticism. At Duke the staff PA we are with for the week looks over our dictations after we edit them and write corrections (if needed!), which is really helpful.

We have case assessment forms that we can submit for the pathologists and residents to fill out on specific cases. Our goal is to get two forms back a week, some weeks are better than others for actually getting the forms back. The VA is pretty fantastic in that regard because the residents and pathologists can fill the forms out at slide sign out, or are really approachable if you're following up on a case (the downside being that to get a copy of your dictations, you have to get someone with VA computer access to print it off for you. They're really nice and accommodating about it though!). It can be a little tougher at Duke to get your forms back since we are more removed from the pathologists. Hard copies are easy to misplace or set aside for later and forget about too! Not to say that we don't get any of them back, but it is generally a good idea to send out a few extras just to be extra sure that you get enough feedback. And, having more than the minimum number of assessments returned is a good thing since it means getting feedback from a wider variety of pathologists.

I've sent out five this week, which feels excessive but I've had some interesting cases.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hilarity ensued

We're doing a lunchtime lecture course, and part of today's lecture involved what not to do when giving a powerpoint presentation. It involved our course director dressed as a pirate (more or less) giving an intentionally horrifically uninformative presentation that demonstrated all the things you shouldn't do while giving a presentation. It had sound effects, excessive animations, delightful color combinations like light lime green on a busy orange background, and the sort of disorganized rambling instruction you get from someone who isn't exactly prepared for the talk they are supposed to be giving. It was great, lots of smiles all around.

We also had some much more serious information imparted. I really feel that most people would benefit from a quick what not to do when it comes to powerpoint presentations. Some of it is common sense, but I think almost everyone is guilty (at one time or another) or putting way too much information on a single slide.

In other news, we got our fall portfolios back along with our evaluations from all of our rotation sites. I received some nice positive feedback, which is always a great way to start a new semester.

My first day back at North after the break was pretty good. We got a late start as always because of photography, but still managed a productive morning. It was funny though because even somewhere as busy as Duke can get things in waves. It was something I noticed where I worked before, all of a sudden, out of nowhere it would be spleen week or one digit amputation after another or massive sutured skin ellipses. Some days it seems like the tonsil folks are offering surgeries two for one and you have set after set, and other times you might go several days without any. Same thing today at Duke, although not with tonsils. I did several different specimens, but it seemed like there were only two types of surgeons working and they were either one type or the other. It was odd! But not bad, it was actually something I enjoyed practicing on.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A second January

It has been a long break, very restful, but tomorrow it starts again! January intersession for the first years, and back to rotations for us. It is completely different as a second year than it is as a first year. Last year, it was all about learning the ropes and everything was new (and a little intimidating!). This year, they will still be going through autopsy and surg path, but instead of Pam teaching the first years the senior PA at Duke North will be teaching them (if I understand correctly!). It will be a slightly different experience for them.

As a second year, it is intimidating for different reasons. This is the latter half of the second year. That means seven months left to learn everything we can so we can. It means feeling more confident about what we're doing, but not so confident that we're unwilling to learn.

Last year our second years seemed to know what they were doing when we were with them in January, I hope our first years can say the same for us! ;) We'll have to see.