Role of Pathologists

In Australia, all laboratories must be supervised by a pathologist. In the case of a small remote laboratory this supervision may consist of review of all laboratory operations and quality assurance data from a central location combined with regular visits to the laboratory. Large city hospital or private laboratories may have dozens of pathologists on site. Most of these pathologists will be specialists in a single discipline such as histopathology.

The work of pathologists is very varied and depends on their specialty. Many pathologists are generally trained in all disciplines. General pathologists are most likely to be found supervising all aspects of the operation of small to mid-sized laboratories. The largest proportion of pathologists specialise in a single discipline and in large laboratories each department will be supervised by one or more specialist pathologists.

In some disciplines such as histopathology, cytology and haematology pathologists investigate samples through the microscope and must draw on their professional knowledge to make judgements about what they see. The work is painstaking and meticulous.

Pathologists also supervise their departmental operations, help senior scientists in problem solving and provide the clinical interface with the doctors who refer samples to the laboratory.

Pathologists typically spend a lot of time on the telephone discussing the interpretation of results and plans for further investigation with the doctors who have referred the specimens to the laboratory.

Pathology test results form just one part of the process of understanding disease in any person who comes to their doctor with a problem. The doctor will consider the pathology results alongside the history of the problem related by the person, the family history, the record of medications being taken and the results of any other investigations such as X-rays before coming to any firm conclusions about diagnosis and management of the problem.