A pathologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the study of diseases and their causes. They play a critical role in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of various health conditions. Pathologists use laboratory techniques and microscopic examination to diagnose diseases. They typically work behind the scenes, conducting tests and analyzing specimens to provide information to other medical professionals, including primary care physicians, surgeons, and oncologists.
The role of pathologists involves a wide range of tasks. For example, they may examine biopsy samples to diagnose cancer or examine tissue samples to determine the cause of a patient’s illness. They also play a crucial role in the development of new diagnostic tests, treatments, and therapies. In addition, pathologists work to improve the accuracy and efficiency of laboratory tests and procedures.
Pathologists must complete a rigorous education and training process. This typically begins with earning a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field, followed by attending medical school. They then complete a residency program in pathology, which typically lasts four years. During this time, they gain hands-on experience in the field, working alongside experienced pathologists and learning the latest techniques and technologies.
Once the residency program is complete, pathologists must pass a certification exam from the American Board of Pathology to become board-certified. This exam tests their knowledge and expertise in the field and ensures that they meet the highest standards of quality and patient care.
The two main areas of pathology are anatomic pathology and clinical pathology.
- Anatomic Pathology: This area focuses on the diagnosis and study of diseases through the examination of tissues and organs. This includes biopsy interpretation, surgical pathology, and autopsy analysis.
- Clinical Pathology: This area involves the laboratory analysis of bodily fluids, such as blood and urine, to diagnose and monitor various diseases.
Pathologists may decide to pursue additional training to become experts in various subspecialties. These subspecialities include areas such as:
- Breast Pathology: The diagnosis and study of breast diseases and disorders, including breast cancer.
- Cytopathology: The diagnosis and study of diseases through the examination of cells, including cervical cancer screening (Pap tests) and fine needle aspiration biopsies.
- Dermatopathology: The diagnosis and study of skin diseases and disorders through the examination of skin samples.
- Fine Needle Aspiration: A minimally invasive procedure used to diagnose a variety of conditions, including breast, thyroid, and lymph node abnormalities.
- Gastrointestinal Pathology: The diagnosis and study of diseases of the digestive system, including the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and rectum.
- Gynecologic Pathology: The diagnosis and study of diseases of the female reproductive system, including cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.
- Hematopathology: This subspecialty focuses on the study of blood disorders, such as leukemia and lymphoma, and involves the examination of blood and bone marrow samples.
- Head and Neck Pathology: The diagnosis and study of diseases of the head and neck, including tumors and inflammatory conditions.
- Liver Pathology: The diagnosis and study of liver diseases, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.
- Ophthalmic Pathology: The diagnosis and study of diseases of the eye, including age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.
- Pancreatic Pathology: The diagnosis and study of diseases of the pancreas, including pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.
- Pediatric Pathology: The diagnosis and study of diseases in children, including congenital anomalies and pediatric cancers.
- Renal Pathology: The diagnosis and study of diseases of the kidneys, including glomerulonephritis, pyelonephritis, and renal cell carcinoma.
- Urologic Pathology: The diagnosis and study of diseases of the urinary system, including bladder, prostate, and testicular cancers.
Each of these subspecialties requires specialized training and expertise, and pathologists may choose to focus their practice on one or several of these areas.
At Pathology Reference Lab, all of our pathologists are board-certified in anatomic and clinical pathology. Many have multiple sub-specialty areas, which ensures that patients and physicians have access to expert knowledge at the time they need it the most.