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What is Pathology?

Doctors and Medical Specialties
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Pathology is the study of diseases and is one of the oldest disciplines in medicine. It is referred to as the backbone of medicine and is performed in conjunction with primary physicians to examine blood, bone, and body fluid samples and biopsies for abnormalities to help diagnose and treat patients. Pathologists rarely have direct contact with patients, as they work to interpret, diagnose, and monitor diseases. A pathologist's setting is generally in hospitals or outpatient reference laboratories.

To become a pathologist, a medical degree plus four to five years of post-graduate residency is required. A pathologist's education concentrates on gross anatomy, histology, chemistry, and cellular biology; it requires the longest educational and training periods of all of the medical practices. In the United States, a qualified licensed pathologist is certified by the American Board of Pathology.

Pathology specialties include:

Clinical pathology - Clinical pathologists are laboratory experts and work with medical technologists to perform testing on body fluids. They work in conjunction with clinical physicians to determine a diagnosis related to certain symptoms.

Anatomic pathology - Anatomic pathologists examine tissues removed from patients through surgery or biopsy to make a diagnosis. This is done primarily through visual inspection by eye or microscopic sample. This can be done during surgery to help determine the best surgical process.

Transfusion pathology - Transfusion pathologists work with blood banks.

Cytopathology - Cytopathologists study pap smears and fine needle aspirations for abnormalities and help diagnose diseases related to these procedures.

Dermatopathology - In the study of skin disorders, dermatopathologists diagnose skin disorders at the microscopic level. Dermatopathologists work closely with dermatologists. Dermatologists often have training in both specialties.

Forensic pathology - Forensic pathologists work with the coroner's office and police to perform autopsies and/or study blood and tissue samples to help determine cause of death. Forensic pathologists also perform routine work in laboratories, hospitals, and morgues.

Pathology can be a rewarding career field for those who are interested in anatomy, physiology, and lab work. Forensic pathology has recently become a well-known field due the popularity of television shows on the subject. Other types of work in the field of medical pathology that do not require medical school training are medical technology, forensic technology, cytotechnology, or a career as a mortuary assistant.

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