Staff Spotlight: Working for the ‘greater good’

Patricia Tinker helps to keep dermatopathology on top

Patricia Tinker

For Patricia Tinker, public service comes naturally: her parents felt strongly about the importance of helping others, and now all five of her siblings work for nonprofits. As clinical practice manager for the Department of Dermatology—and to a smaller extent, the Department of Laboratory Medicine—Tinker is heavily involved in service.

“What we do here is all for the greater good,” said the New Haven-area native. “I try to make this point to everyone I work with at every opportunity.” Tinker directly oversees five managers and supervisors, and consults with five others. She is also a certified professional medical coder. There is a numerical code to everything—from office procedures to medical supplies—and Tinker uses her expertise to make sure all coding meets requirements for insurance reimbursement, Medicare and compliance audits. 

These days, most of Tinker’s work involves dermatopathology: the examination of skin tissue samples—from relatively benign warts to melanoma—that are removed by dermatologists, both local and worldwide, and sent to Yale for analysis and interpretation by the department’s eight board-certified specialists.

Patricia Tinker visits Dave Andes, a certified histotechnician and a team leader in the dermatopathology lab.

“Dermatopathology is a unique practice because 85 to 90 percent of the cases we process, diagnose and report on come from outside the Yale health care system, but mostly from within Connecticut,” said Tinker. The dermatopathology program is considered to be among the top in the country, and Tinker is devoted to keeping it that way. Since she started working as a dermatopathology supervisor in 1997, billings increased from about $3.8 million to $21.6 million.

Recently, some dermatologists have attempted to increase revenues by keeping their dermatopathology in-house. To counter this trend, Tinker and dermpath director Jennifer McNiff, MD, have taken the unusual step of marketing Yale’s expertise at trade shows with a booth that features custom-tailored presentations geared to specific areas of dermatology. 

“Figuring out the nature of a skin lesion can be as much an art as a science,” said Tinker, touting the fact that every day the dermatopathologists in her department “conference” around a multi-headed microscope to review and discuss complex cases. “As a dermatology patient, you’re much safer if you have the best and brightest reading your case.”

Tinker works hard as part of dermatology’s administrative team, which is led by Jeanette Sullivan, clinical administrator, not only to ensure that the pathologists have everything they need to do their critical jobs, but to keep the support staff focused on their mission. One way she does this is with regular “Lunch and Learn” get-togethers, during which a physician may offer a short illustrated talk about skin ailments and the latest research. Kasia Olszewski, a clinical practice specialist who has worked for Tinker for 10 years, also credits Tinker’s thoughtful management style. “She’s been a great influence, giving me guidance, encouragement and help with my professional growth,” said Olszewski, who supervises billing and reimbursement.

“I want everyone here to have a good feeling of accomplishment when their heads hit the pillow at night,” said Tinker, whose dedication is clearly more than skin deep. “That’s what managing is all about.”