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Pathologists' Survey Highlights Need for Integrity, Professionalism Among New Hires

NEW YORK (360Dx) – Employers of pathologists look for integrity, work ethic, and professionalism among new hires, in addition to diagnostic ability.

Employers have reported that new pathologists are often unprepared for practice, even though many new pathologists seek one or more training fellowships. This suggested to Houston Methodist Hospital's Suzanne Powell and her colleagues that there might be a mismatch between the expectations of employers and new hires.

Powell and her colleagues surveyed 630 pathologists with hiring responsibilities regarding what they deem critical in a job applicant. As they reported this month in the Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, respondents valued not only diagnostic skills, but also that the applicant has demonstrated evidence of being ethical, having a strong work ethic, and of conducting themself professionally. They also noted the value of networking, as many hires are made through word-of-mouth recommendations.

To the study authors, these survey results suggest that pathologists in training should focus on developing their soft skills.

"[N]on-pathology skills have clearly emerged as important areas of emphasis for employers and must be adequately addressed by trainees and by extension, training programs," Powell and her colleagues wrote in their paper.

The researchers sent an internet-based survey to 7,261 College of American Pathology fellows, about 17 percent of whom responded. A preliminary screening question weeded out respondents who hadn't been responsible recently for hiring any new pathologists, leaving 630 respondents.

Some 71 percent of these respondents said they'd encountered difficulties hiring qualified entry-level pathologists. Nearly half attributed those issues to inadequate training, though they also cited applicants' unrealistic expectations about their workload and incongruities between training and job requirements as factors.

According to the respondents, interpersonal skills and professionalism are crucial. They deemed ethics or integrity, work ethic, and professionalism to be "critically important." They also regarded communication skills, having a team attitude, and emotional stability as necessary. These skills, the researchers noted, are assumed to be on top of a strong diagnostic ability.

Likewise, 'red flags' included poor interpersonal skills, meager references, and a lack of demonstrated integrity and work ethic.

No matter the type of practice the respondents hailed from, the most and least critical attributes were the same, Powell and her colleagues said. They noted, though, that respondents from academic settings tended to place a greater emphasis on career goals and less on loyalty.

Despite some 56 percent of new pathologists pursuing a fellowship, more than half of the respondents said they would or might consider hiring someone without such training. Only about a quarter said it was mandatory, and among those respondents, some noted that their practice required specialization.

Networking is also a key skill for applicants, even if employers don't explicitly require it, the researchers found. Though three-quarters of respondents said they would hire a new pathologist with whom they or members of their group did not have an existing relationship, many of those also said that that applicant would have to have strong recommendations, often from a trusted source. In addition, some 83 percent of respondents said that word of mouth was their most common recruiting method, meaning that many jobs get filled without being publicly posted.

This underscores applicants' need to develop strong networking skills and join local and national professional organizations, Powell and her colleagues said.