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What is Pathology?

Pathology is the branch of medicine concerned with the study of disease. Pathologists are doctors and scientists who work with other doctors and nurses to diagnose, treat and prevent illness.

    Blood test samples, image by: GrahamColm

What do pathologists do?

Pathologists don’t all do the same job. There are 19 different specialties, the main ones being histopathology (tissue), microbiology (bugs), haematology (blood) and clinical biochemistry (chemicals). Pathologists work in laboratories, clinics and on hospital wards. You might meet some of them face to face, but others work behind the scenes, providing the information that other doctors need to make a diagnosis and decide what treatment to offer to patients. For example if you or someone you know has ever had a blood or urine test or had a bit of tissue removed, it would have been a pathologist that examined the sample and decided if anything was wrong.

Pathology is for the living!

You might have seen forensic pathology in TV programmes like CSI and Silent Witness, but the majority of work done by pathologists is for the benefit of oeople who are still alive! Some pathologists also do autopsies (also called ‘post mortems’) where they try to discover a cause of death but this is only a small proportion of the work pathologists do and only about 1% of all pathologists are forensic pathologists.

The importance of pathology

Pathology is involved in 70% of all diagnoses made in the NHS. Millions of pathology tests are carried out every year – over 14 tests for every man, woman and child in the country. Many major advances have been made by pathologists, for example in the treatment of cancer, ensuring safe blood transfusions, developing vaccines against infectious diseases and the treatment of inherited conditions.

Find out more:

To find out how to become a pathologist visit the careers section of the National Pathology Year 2012 website at www.ilovepathology.org. There are also hundreds of pathology related events happening all over the country throughout the year.

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