The right person for the right job

Emerging opportunities

Digital pathology is on the rise, much in part of a 2017 FDA approval. With expanding activities comes the need to hire the right people for the right job.

Both manufacturers and customers have been putting out job ads at an increasing rate to keep up with the rapid move to digitization. But as I go over these postings, I often find unrealistic expectations on the customer side.

The digital pathology customer

What does a digital pathology customer look like? As it minimum, we’re talking about organizations that have decided to adopt whole slide imaging in at least some of their workflow.

Read that last sentence again. We don’t think you’re a digital pathology adapter if you bought a scanner. Then you bought a scanner. But there’s more to it than that: the organization that purchases the scanner must make the conscious decision of wanting to bring it into their regular workflow, and possibly modify their procedures where needed.

On that note, we think there are quite possibly people out there that are already doing digital pathology without realizing it, or at least without actually having the hardware to do whole slide imaging.

Many conventional microscopes can and have been outfitted with digital recording devices. If you have a workflow at your lab that is inherent to and optimized for these digital material produced by these, you are doing digital pathology. PMA.start probably supports your file types already.

Who to hire?

In many places around the world, the realization now sets in that digital pathology in indeed more than just getting the slide scanner. You need somebody to run the operation (and not just the scanner). You need somebody who can do internal PR and evangelization.

The person should have great communication skills, as they’ll need to interact with IT, as well as various types of end-users. Reporting to management or even the C-suite may bed required. You’ll need to communicate with various layers in the hierarchy, too. Say that you’re at a university: chances are that a PI doesn’t know or care about whole slide imaging, but that a number of students in the lab would indeed benefit from the technology. This requires certain diplomatic skills at time.

Let’s call the person that can do the above job the “digital pathology manager”.

There’s no well established job profile for a digital pathology manager yet. Yet I held this position myself for three years at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. To be perfectly honest: this wasn’t a job title given to me. I picked it myself as it seemed fitting.

In retrospect, I think it was. The university had bought a scanner, and was looking for use cases and scenarios to fit it into. They were ready to embark on the digital pathology journey!

Responsibilities of the digital pathology manager

So here’s a list of tasks and responsibilities that I think fall under the responsibility of a digital pathology manager, and that may be included in a job ad:

  • Support digital pathology users
    • Teach techniques
    • Think about “best pracices”
  • Reporting
    • user trends
    • rate of adaptation
  • Maintain internal portal websites
    • Be vigilant about mobile digital pathology
      • It’s not because you CAN that you SHOULD
  • Support educational activities
    • Histology / pathology / microscopy
    • Digital pathology as a training and certification tool
  • Establish collaborations with external and international partners
  • Present the home institute or organization as a center of competence in digital pathology
    • representation at digital pathology conferences
    • lecture at conferences and other institutes (invited talks)
    • be an ambassador for digital pathology at events that are not necessarily DP-focused
      • like bioinformatics, image processing, or pathology)
    • supervise the publication of non-scientific content about digital pathology
      • e.g. through a blog or industry publication
    • keep an eye out for the possibility to (co)author scientific publications
    • organize workshops about digital pathology

I should point out that my function was at a public university. Depending on whether you work at a research institute, a company, or a hospital, accents on different aspect of the job can be expected to vary.

Finding your own

Why did I actually feel the need to post this?

I think that many job ads out there today don’t reflect what an organization actually needs to establish a successful digital pathology program. Many job ads ask for combined MD/PhD degrees, with experience in research as well as the clinic, and possibly have experience with digital pathology already.

Sure, you’ll need some background, and probably a substantial one. But do you really need two doctorate-level degrees? Why not throw in an MBA as well?

I find many of these ads go look for the proverbial five-legged sheep, and are therefore unlikely to find these.

Instead, focus on what you actually want to accomplish. Do you have a concrete scenario in mind already? Or are you still at an exploration phase? Do you have your (internal) customers lining up? Or are most people unaware that you have this technology now (or do they just not care)?

Digital pathology is still new and you will not find people that come from targeted degree programs.  I think the hiring challenge for digital pathology customers should start from making a list of responsibilities. Search and you will find.