What Is Pathology?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines pathology as: “the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes.”

Perhaps looked at more colloquially, if it involves the use of a microscope in the practice of medicine, we’re the doctors who do it.

Pathologists look at a wide range of different tissues under the microscope, diagnosing entities ranging from cancer to gout to parasitic infections and, truly, everything in-between.

But pathology is actually much more than just microscopy skills.  The Oxford definition also includes the examination of samples of blood, joint fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, and other bodily fluids.  Many of these types of specimens are never examined with a microscope, but are instead run through instruments which give us answers about what is in those fluids.  For example, the instrument can tell if a patient has high levels of lipids in her blood, and the patient’s primary care doctor can use that information to craft a treatment plan aimed at lowering those high lipids.

But you might wonder: if the instrument and the patient’s primary care physician are actually doing all the work, where does the pathologist come into play?

The answer to that question lies in the second major roll that pathologists play in the delivery of quality healthcare to our patients.  While pathologists may have little to do with each individual blood sample that comes into the laboratory, we are critically important to ensuring the laboratory runs well.  We are ultimately responsible for verifying quality assurance and control control within the laboratory.  We are the medical doctors that ensure those instruments produce quality results for our patients.

And because of that responsibility, pathologists often possess expert knowledge about the benefits and limitations of laboratory tests.  We serve as important consultants for other doctors who want to know, “Is this the right test for our patient?”

So whether it’s a microscope or a laboratory test, pathologists are working hard behind the scenes to ensure you receive the best healthcare possible.


The pathologists and staff at Peachtree-Piedmont Associates