Clinical pathologists work in hospital labs and pathology groups to practice as consultant physicians, developing and applying knowledge of tissue and laboratory analyses to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of individual patients. As scientists, they use the tools of laboratory science in clinical studies, disease models, and other experimental systems, to advance the understanding and treatment of disease.
Clinical pathologists in a pathology group administer a number of visual and microscopic tests and an especially large variety of tests of the biophysical properties of tissue samples involving automated analyzers and cultures. Sometimes the general term “laboratory medicine specialist” is used to refer to those working in clinical pathology, including medical doctors, PhDs and doctors of pharmacology.
According to the world’s largest professional membership organization for clinical pathologists and laboratory professionals, the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), “Pathologists are problem-solvers, fascinated by the process of disease and eager to unlock medical mysteries, like AIDS and diabetes, using the tools of laboratory medicine and its sophisticated instruments and methods. Pathologists make it possible to apply scientific advances to improve the accuracy and efficiency of medical diagnosis and treatment.”
Becoming a pathologist entails one of the lengthiest education and training tracks of all physicians. Requirements include four years of undergraduate study, plus four years of medical school, plus a minimum of four to five years of post-graduate training in pathology residency.
The American Board of Pathology certifies clinical pathologists, and recognizes the following secondary specialties of clinical pathology:
- Chemical pathology, also called clinical chemistry
- Blood banking / transfusion medicine
- Clinical microbiology
- Molecular genetics pathology
Clinical pathologists work in close collaboration with clinical scientists (clinical biochemists, clinical microbiologists, etc.), medical technologists (MTs), clinical laboratory scientists (CLS), hospital administrators, and referring physicians to ensure the accuracy and optimal utilization of laboratory testing.
Clinical pathology is one of the two major divisions of pathology, the other being anatomic pathology. Often, pathologists practice both anatomical and clinical pathology, a combination sometimes known as general pathology.
According to the ASCP, “there are approximately 12,000 board certified pathologists in the U.S. who practice their specialty in community, university, and government hospitals and clinics, in independent laboratories, or in private offices, clinics, and other health care facilities.”
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