A Lay Person’s Guide To Pathology

Pathology is the study and diagnosis of disease.

Pathologists must have a suitable medical qualification and membership of the Royal College of Pathologists, which approves training posts and sets the examinations.  Training takes about five years.

Consultants in some of the specialties, particularly Haematology and Immunology, directly manage their own patients and may have hospital beds as well as hold clinics.

Consultant Pathologists have an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases in every specialty of medicine.  Although patients usually do not see the pathologist, at one time or another, most patients have specimens taken for pathological testing.

Specimens may include samples of blood, other body fluids, tissue samples (biopsies) or all or part of an organ removed by a surgeon.  Some pathologists perform autopsy examinations.

Clinical scientists have suitable qualifications to achieve consultant equivalent status. The clinical scientist role is generally related to quality assurance or provision of specialist techniques, with clinical liaison increasing at higher grades.

Much of the laboratory-based work of pathology specialties is performed by Biomedical Scientists. Entry to these posts is graduate only and at higher levels contains a substantial element of laboratory management activity. Biomedical Scientists must be registered with the Health Professions Council.

Day-to-day work is facilitated by Medical Laboratory Assistants who are trained to perform specific tasks, described by a defined protocol, under supervision.

Pathology departments in the NHS are required to be accredited by Clinical Pathology Accreditation UK Ltd and partake in continuous quality management systems and external quality assurance schemes.