Sometimes I wish I had the type of job that explained itself in one word, like “dentist” or “teacher,” but my chosen profession requires a bit of background and explanation any time someone asks what I do. I am a Pathologists’ Assistant, or PA, which is at the most basic level a Physician’s Assistant who specializes in Pathology. We are highly trained allied health professionals who get our (gloved) hands dirty on a daily basis as we examine and dissect human tissues ranging from the tiny biopsy taken during a routine colonoscopy to the multi-organ resection with a cancerous tumor. It’s busy, not always (or ever) glamorous, and can be high pressure but I love my strange job.
Our profession is young, the first graduate training program started in 1969, and small, with approximately 1200 working PAs in the US and Canada, but we do have our own professional organization- the AAPA (American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants). One of our organization’s objectives specifically pinpoints professional ethics, as the association aims to “benefit and further the profession by promoting and maintaining high standards of ethical conduct” and a section of the bylaws outlines the ethics policy (American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants, 2016). Within our bylaws, it is stated that “any member may be censured by, suspended by, or expelled from this Association for violations of the principles of medical ethics” (AAPA, 2010). No specific ethical principles are outlined, rather it is assumed that we should follow a code of medical ethics similar to that of the longstanding standard set by the AMA. Other sections in our bylaws hint at principles from the AMA code, like maintaining “competence in practice” through continuing medical education and principles that echo both the AMA and APA codes, like reducing harm (Pennsylvania State University, 2016).
Like the AMA code and the ethical standards portion of the APA code, the ethical standard of the AAPA is enforceable, and there are consequences for violating ethical principles. Even without an explicit ethics code, a very specific procedure is spelled out in the AAPA bylaws for the investigation and punishment of individuals who commit ethical violations. In reading over our bylaws it was a bit intimidating to see the discussion of hearings and panels and disciplinary action without specific ethical standards or principles listed as well. In many ways it is sort of assumed by the association that we as medical professionals would have enough background in medical ethics to just know what is ethically right. It drives home the importance of studying ethics and actually reading ethics codes and maintaining a familiarity and understanding, as well as adding some weight to the practice of utilizing ethics codes in decision making.
American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants. (2010, January). Bylaws. Retrieved from http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.pathassist.org/resource/resmgr/docs/bylaws_-_rev_01-2010.pdf
American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants (2016). AAPA History. Retrieved from http://www.pathassist.org/?page=AboutUs_AAPAHistory
Pennsylvania State University, (2016). L05:APA ethics code. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390
Pennsylvania State University, (2016). L06: Other ethics codes. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390