By: Jerry Santiago
I am so honored to have been invited and witness the celebration of the first Latin America conference of histotechnology hosted by the Mexican Association of Histotechnology. This project was a thought that originated through a private chat group in Whatsapp that includes presidents and leads of the societies in Latin America, including Puerto Rico and special guests. The Mexico Association of Histotechnology agreed to host the event and to put it together in such a short time. Kudos to Miguel Angel Garcia Salaxar, president of the society and his team for putting this magnificent event together. This was three days meeting March 13- 15, 2020, that despite the beginning of the COVID-19 breakout, it took place with many precautions in place and many people, including the speakers knowing that there would be a mandatory quarantine upon our return to our countries.
There were 180 participants, including speakers represented from countries such as Brazil, Honduras, Panamá, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and the United States of America. Through my journeys through Latin America, and seeing the need for more education and training for these countries, I am convinced that this was the right platform. My experience in this particular meeting was superb and more than what I expected. The hospitality of this great group was incredible and something that I will cherish forever.
Let me give you a synopsis of what took place the minute that I landed in Mexico City. The host committee asked if the speakers would arrive a few days early so that they could give us a tour of their culture and amazing sites of this country. We were greeted at the airport by our host Elvira Araiza and immediately embarked on our trip to the city of Teotihuacan, which means the "City of Gods" and where we would be having a private tour of the ruins of the town including the Pyramids of the Sun and the moon.
We arrived at the ruins and what an impressive sight. We had our tour that took the majority of our day visiting the entire site from the pyramids to the road of death. By the end of this tour, we were exhausted and went straight to our hotel for a delicious Mexican dinner and then to rest for our next day tour. Our second tour consisted of visiting beautiful landmarks and learning more about their customs and culture.
After visiting so many interesting sites, we finally arrived at the host hotel to prepare for the meeting. We were greeted by the host committee, who helped us get settled and invited us for a delicious Mexican dinner.
The one thing about meetings in Latin America is its protocol. The meeting started at the grand ballroom with a procession of the host committee and their board of directors, followed by the national anthem of Mexico. Let the meeting begin was announced! I have seen this as very customary of the Latin countries.
There was an introduction of the speakers as we were all sitting in the front row, followed by the pre-symposium lead by local pathologists. That evening all speakers were invited to the stage for a round table with the audience to discuss "Histotechnology in Latin America." The audience was able to listen as each one of us talked about the development of histotechnology in each country and formed an informative Q & A. That evening the host committee had planned a dinner for the speakers and their guests with additional site seeing of a close-by city that happens to be the city of residence of the famous Freida Khalo. There we had more traditional and authentic Mexican cuisine and music.
The next day, was the educational workshops component of the meeting, I was their keynote speaker, and my task was to open the conference on the first day with a "Journey of histotechnology from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." I have to say that this was a journey and adding to my experiences in Latin America; I was able to once again go through a timeline of techniques and equipment that have made our lives more comfortable in the United States and their territories in comparison with countries that uses coke cans as their dishes for an H & E stain. There are so many questions and so much need for education in Latin America that as a histotechnologist and an educator, I felt that my contribution to the field was being met through my presentations.
The Latin community is known for its unique hospitality, and Mexico was not the exception. A black-tie evening event was planned, and it was a fantastic night. The evening was filled with traditional dances, mariachi, and, of course, tequila.
The next morning and last day of the meeting were filled with fantastic workshops, poster presentations, and the last evening event hosted by the local committee. As the keynote speaker, I was also closing the workshops component; in other words, the last speaker. I closed the event with the importance of certification and licensure, and the opportunity offered to Latin America by the American Society for Clinical Pathology to become certified as a Histotechnician or Histotechnologist International (ASCPi). As far as the education requirement in histotechnology, the majority of the Latin countries have histotechnology as part of the medical technology training at a bachelor's level or a histotechnology specialty at the bachelor level. They are regulated by their respective government and follow licensure requirements for their country.
Immediately following the last conference, the closing ceremony began. Yes, just like the Olympics. The president gave a farewell speech and invited everyone to continue the great work of advancing the field of histotechnology in any way or fashion. Once again, we were treated to a farewell dinner by the hoist committee and indulged with more Mexican cuisine. I ate all I could because I was getting ready for my quarantine when I returned to the US.
The journey to the first Latin America Symposium of Histotechnology is one that I will cherish forever and write in my books. The opportunity with my volunteering services to the National Society for Histotechnology and other entities such as the American Society for histotechnology and the College for American Pathology has given me the knowledge, confidence, and tools to share with a community that thirst for education and training. Take these volunteerism opportunities and share your knowledge and expertise because someone needs you!
What happened upon my return to the US…well, I was placed in mandatory quarantine for 14 days due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which I have used to prepare all of my college courses to be delivered online.