What is Pathology?
Broadly defined, pathology is the study of disease - its etiology, pathogenesis, and how it manifests in the body. This definition, while helpful, doesn’t really give you a sense of what a pathologist does in daily practice. It’s difficult to come up with a singular definition of a pathologist. Pathology can be divided into two major branches: anatomic and clinical pathology. Doctors who pursue training in pathology can choose to train in one or both divisions.
Anatomic pathologists examine tissue samples or fluids for diagnostic purposes. For example, a patient may have a suspicious lesion or mass that is biopsied. The tissue is processed, sliced into thin sections, then placed on a glass slide and stained. The pathologist then looks at the tissue, and taking into consideration the patient’s characteristics (age, previous health history), renders a diagnosis. These results are communicated the patient’s primary physician, who then tailors further treatment based on the pathologist’s diagnosis.
Clinical pathologists are laboratorians; they manage and direct the operations of many different laboratories in a hospital. Some examples include the hematology and chemistry labs, blood bank, microbiology labs - just to name a few. These labs are the core testing facilities that process patient samples for both routine tests (for example, a blood count or electrolyte panel), and more specialized tests (for example, specialized genetic testing). Clinical pathologists frequently consult with other physicians regarding interpretation of abnormal test results (and what, if any, further tests to order), and they also supervise the overall quality assurance/quality control of laboratories.
Clinical decision making is guided by the results of diagnostic tests. As a result, pathologists have an vital role in patient care. We work predominantly with other physicians (hence the description of pathologists as the "doctors' doctor") in order to help guide a patient's management.
Considering pathology, or just curious to know more?
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