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What’s a Pathologist?

October 17, 2011

Author:  Dr. C. Cheung

We’re doctors! We are medical doctors that specialize in the study of disease, usually through the examination of tissue using a wide variety of techniques.

Usually this means we look and touch tissue and put it under a microscope to help the patient figure out what the problem is.  In our world, we call this:  Grossing the tissue (the looking and touching part) and histologic (putting it under a microscope) examination of thin tissue sections (as in, 4 microns thick) that have been cut onto a glass slide and stained with tissue dyes.

There are other ways we examine tissue besides using a microscope. We have several different techniques at our disposal to examine tissue and come up with a diagnosis.  We can examine tissue using immunohistochemical analysis for diagnosis and prognosis of complicated specimens (specific staining techniques used to diagnose tissue) electron microscopy (magnifications approximately 100,000,000x greater than a regular light microscope), cytogenetics (study of cells and chromosomes) and molecular diagnostics (assessing biological make-up at a molecular level).

How much training does this take?  More years than most of us care to remember!

The minimum training for a Pathologist in Canada requires completion of medical school (typically 4 years) followed by 5 years of residency training through a program approved by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

After successful completion of residency training, we are eligible for a license to practice by one of the provincial licensing bodies that regulate all practicing physicians within the province.  For example, the physician licensing body for Ontario is the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO); for British Columbia, it is the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia (CPSBC).

Some Pathologists also undertake additional post-residency training in either diagnostic pathology or research.  Such additional training is sometimes a requirement of working at an academic/teaching hospital.

This is good since it ensures that no matter where you are in Canada, you are being looked after by an expert. We studied, worked hard and received hands-on training with esteemed leaders in our field. We all work together to deliver quality world-class care to our patients so you can confidently trust your test results.

So, even though you do not typically get to see us, Pathologists are your doctors too!

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