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Published in CenterView on July 15, 2013
Dr. Janice Lage
Dr. Janice Lage

New pathology chair seeks to improve quality, education, performance

By Jack Mazurak

During a meeting on a topic only marginally related, Dr. Janice Lage intercepted an issue like a cat swatting down a porch-lit moth.

“Let me know the next time that happens,” she told another department chair regarding clinical samples not making it through one of her pathology labs. “We’ll figure out what the disconnect is and fix it.”

As the School of Medicine’s new chair of pathology, her hands-on approach focuses on repairing systems and polishing them to efficiently provide quick, dependable and quality services.

Lage, who received her M.D. from the Washington University School of Medicine and came to the University of Mississippi Medical Center from the pathology chair position at the Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston, describes herself as plainspoken.

Direct though she is, Lage approaches system breakdowns with a willing smile that assures people she wants to improve, not disapprove.

Her office, the site of a paper-bomb detonation, implies method in chaos. She cuts through tangles that face any administrator in a new position, but does it with ease, certainty and positivity gained from faculty stints at Harvard and leadership positions at Georgetown University.

Rising from the folders and paperwork, a double-headed microscope stands centered on her desk, a tower above a city’s haphazard streetscape.

“This is the best part,” she said, deftly loading a slide onto the scope table. “Look at the colors.”
She started part-time at UMMC in November and began full-time in February, succeeding Dr. Stephen Bigler as chair.

Since childhood in California, Lage knew she wanted to be a doctor. She used the kiddie microscope as a girl, aiming its nickel-sized mirror into window light to examine onion skin, leaves or bugs recruited from outside.

She came to pathology for its predictable hours – she and her husband had the first of three children by the time she started residency. And unlike the year she spent as an obstetrics and gynecology resident, pathology lab work doesn’t tax the body by keeping physicians on their feet, running between patients and staying awake at night supervising births.

“What I really enjoy about pathology is you get to help the patient by making the right diagnosis and a timely diagnosis,” she said.

No fooling. In surgical pathology, a surgeon may send up a tumor sample from the ongoing operation, then come upstairs to the lab where a pathologist has flash-frozen and sliced a section and is making an analysis.
   
“They’re asking for a diagnosis that actually guides the surgery midstream,” Lage said. “I enjoy the challenge involved in immediate patient care. You feel a part of the team.”

That’s where efficiency plays hardball. Minutes matter, as does expertise.

“I don’t want to be an impediment to getting that patient their diagnosis and care.”

If she’s prioritizing, patient care comes first. Always.

In her own practice, perinatal pathology, she investigates preterm births, miscarriages and stillbirths. She aims to give mothers explanations and, though often difficult, instructive facts at emotionally wrenching times.

Second in Lage’s priorities comes residency training. The department’s educational mission is to educate pathologists, and Lage wants them confident in their experience but not overly so where they don’t rely on their fellow pathologists.

“There’s no shame in asking your colleagues for their opinion of a sample,” Lage said.

Changes under her leadership include filling an unused fellowship slot in cytopathology, giving the division two. She also asked Dr. Alexandra Brown, associate professor of pathology, to oversee residency training.

Other changes include plans to work with the State Medical Examiners office and county coroners to take on more non-forensic death cases. And she plans to add new molecular tests for cancer.

Her third priority is research and administration.

“I want to see that the department is unified,” she said. “My goal is to help the department reorganize along efficiencies.”

In clinical labs, she looks for best practices.

“We need to realize that in labs, we’re stewards of the hospital’s money,” Lage said. “Mislabeling, losing specimens means more difficulties for patients and lost money for the department.”

Lage will keep on intercepting issues to improve processes. And as the department moves forward under her leadership, she’s hoping her colleagues also will join her in seeking efficiencies.