Bulletin July 2015 Number 171

How many times have people asked you what you do for a living? It seems to happen to me every week or so, usually at a dinner party. My answer depends on several things; mostly how much I like the person who asked the question, but also whether I’m tired, irritated or having fun.

What to look for in a consultant post. The possibilities are twofold: if I like the person

who is asking and I’m having a good time, I tell them that I work in cancer diagnosis, trying to give clinicians the best possible information about a patient’s condition so that they can make the best possible decisions and plans. The second option, which I tend to save for situations where I don't want to prolong the conversation, involves the words “cut up dead bodies for a living". Tell a member of the public that you are a pathologist  and they immediately think that you work as a CSI (crime scene investigator) or forensic pathologist. They compare you to Amanda Burton or, more recently, Emilia Fox and say how wonderfully exciting it must be to investigate murders!

The power of the media, and especially television, cannot be underestimated. Explaining that there are 19 different pathology specialties and that autopsies are actually just a small part of what a histopathologist is about doesn’t really help that much. Their eyes start to glaze over at this point and their attention wanders. I’ve had better results using the “I work in cancer diagnosis” line early on; that tends to ignite a spark of interest and you have yourself a window of opportunity to really get across what being a pathologist is all about.

But if you think that’s hard, then try explaining to a politician or member of the public why

autopsies are important and indeed vital to the health of the living. Well, there is an article in this issue of the Bulletin that is the start of trying to do just that. The Coronial autopsy service is on the verge of collapse in many places across England and Wales. The commentary on our recent survey of Fellows and trainees is the start of a campaign aimed at explaining to the Government why they should take positive steps to redress the imbalance between service need and our capacity to deliver.

Two previous government-commissioned reviews of the forensic pathology service in 1989 and 2003 provoked limited responses, and Peter Hutton’s recently completed review of the forensic pathology and coronial autopsy service in England and Wales has (at the time of writing) yet to be published or its recommendations addressed in any way. At the Clinical Management and Leadership Course at Keele University this year, I was asked to speak to pathology and radiology trainees about securing a consultant post. I tried to be as comprehensive as possible, dealing with pre-interview visits as well as the consultant interview, and included

a section on what to look for in a consultant post. When it came to prioritising what was important, I used the slide below. As far as I’m concerned, all of the other usual considerations are secondary: geography, type of department/post and money, amongst others. Sure, they are important, but 17 years down the line frombeing appointed, there is only one thing that would make me walk away from the only consultant post I have ever held, and that is insurmountable difficulties with my colleagues. I am something of an anomaly these days in

that I’ve been in the same post for that long.

When I first became a consultant, hardly anybody moved posts, unless it was to go abroad. There have been difficult times but, like a strong marriage, the key to it all has been good communication. Many of the articles in this issue of the Bulletin are about effective communication and the College’s continuing work to educate others about 'pathology’. The College provides science communication training to Fellows and trainees, which I undertook earlier in the year. It was one of the most effective days of training I have experienced, and I commend it to anyone who is interested in improving his or her performance on this front. To quote Buddha: “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”