Author: Dr. O. Adeyi
Why should you like pathologists?
Well, each time you are being asked to give a sample, any sample, be it blood, urine, tissue biopsy, etc. you are engaging the services of a pathologist.
Most patients in a hospital never think about seeing a pathologist. Some might hope that they would never need a pathologist since they think that it might mean that they were dead (likely something to do with the fact that some of us also perform autopsies).
But, we think we’re big deals when it comes to patient care because more than 80% of patients visiting major hospitals need and receive care from a pathologist.
Imagine you are sitting in front of your surgeon, who just explained to you that you would need surgery to determine the nature of that growth that has had you sleepless for some days now. He concludes by saying “we will examine the tissue to determine what this growth is.”
What he is really saying is “I need to consult a pathologist by submitting a sample of your tissue to him/her; only he/she could tell you what this is, and only then can we determine what further action needs to be taken.”
Pathologists come in different shapes, but are primarily responsible for making diagnoses, and by so doing, directly or indirectly determine or advise the appropriate intervention your surgeon, internist, family physician, or pediatrician, as the case may be, should apply. The pathologist who examines tissue for diagnosis is called an anatomic (or surgical) pathologist.
Other pathologists determine if a blood product is needed and if yes, which one and from which donor (Blood Bank pathologist). Other pathology specialties include medical microbiologists (they examine tissue, blood, etc. for infections, determine what type of infection and what type of anti-microbial is required). There are also pathologists who oversee other clinical laboratories where many blood samples are sent, while other pathologists specialize in examining blood and bone marrow samples for cancers and other ailments. They will also test for the most appropriate therapeutic drugs, and subsequently help to determine when the cancer is gone, nearly gone, or (sometimes unfortunately), recurrent.
Most patients hardly get to see or ever meet their pathologist – but it is clear that while your pathologist is almost never there in the consulting room with you, he or she gets very busy on your behalf.