To the Editor.—During a spring 1981 College of American Pathologists (CAP) Governor's Meeting, Pierre Keitges, MD, and Dan Seckinger, MD, asked me to discuss the feasibility of starting a CAP Public Outreach program. In 1980 I had started the Pima County Medical Society Media Committee and a weekly Tucson half-hour radio AM talk show that discussed commonplace medical challenges—everything from prematurity to hemorrhoids. Public call-in questions added listener engagement.
Keitges and Seckinger pitched the concept to the rather skeptical Board of Governors, convincingly arguing, “The public doesn't know about pathology and what we add to care” and “Most doctors don't see pathologists are real physicians,” and they won over the board, which awarded a small trial allotment. So, the CAP Regional Communication Advocacy Committee was born in 1981, and, later, the CAP Regional Public Service Committee was born in 1984. William Kuehn, PhD, an ex-Jesuit priest and a public relations professional, was hired to create a pathologist media training program called “Plain Talk: A Pathologist's Guide to Media Relations.” Candidates for the CAP media training programs, “Spokespersons,” were initially selected for their CAP participation and practice location in major media markets. These sessions, beginning in 1985, were held during a long weekend initially twice a year. Using his existing public relations network, Bill Kuehn actuated a robust media placement of now-trained spokespersons. Media interview and public print article placements ensued in remarkable acceleration. These programs' metrics, such as members trained and media placement cost equivalents, helped mollify the doubters.
In 1981 George Knobe, MD, from Virginia, Minnesota, and later in 1985 Alan Pierce, MD, from Miami, Florida, joined the committee. Alan and his wife, Lynne, soon were the spokesperson training leaders. By 1998 the program called “Engaged Leadership Academy (ELA)” morphed into the current once-a-year 3-day training of 30 CAP-selected members from a wide diversity of practices and locations. After Bill Kuehn's death in 1989, a CAP William Kuehn Outstanding Communicator Award was established in his honor in 1991.
Sandy Grear, a TV professional, was hired and brilliantly staffed the burgeoning outreach programs, then in 1999 called the Council for Public Affairs. There were several notable programmatic successes of the Regional Public Service Subcommittee. These include the creation of a 1998 recruitment documentary film, shot by Kier Cline, titled “Pathology: A Special Calling,” which featured Drs Seckinger, Keitges, Knobe, and me in our actual practice settings showing our commonplace clinical and diagnostic procedures that focused on pathologists' efforts for the betterment of patient care. Another product was the CAP Policy Manual for Spokesperson reference guide for CAP Hometown Radio Interviews. These interviews started in 2005 and lasted to 2011 and were monthly 3-minute prepared topical features that would be placed into each spokesperson's media market. The successful uptake of these spots enhanced the image of pathology and the local pathologist. From a media analysis standpoint, gauged by the resulting television and print interviews alone, this was the CAP's most robust penetration in terms of audience reached.
Up until 2016, I was still faculty for ELA so I can attest to the continuity of the original intent of the 1981 Board of Governors' creation. The spiritual essence and core task persist into this electronic 21st-century communications era. The public and our medical colleagues need to know and appreciate what pathologists provide to the state of the art. The CAP's ELA is a commitment that meets those challenges.
The author has no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.