Pathology is a branch of medicine that studies disease. Hematological pathology,
or hematopathology, is a subspecialty that studies diseases of the blood.
It's a very narrow field with a big impact on the medical community. These
physicians are experts in diagnosing leukemia, lymphoma, anemia, hemophilia
and many other blood-borne diseases.
Like other pathologists, hematological pathologists read, interpret and
are responsible for the accuracy of laboratory test results.
"Say you go for a routine blood test in the hospital for anemia -- if there's
anything abnormal we review them," says hematopathologist Lois Shepherd.
Reviewing blood samples means looking at them under a microscope, then
recommending or conducting further diagnostic tests.
"If we have something we know is malignant, we analyze it and that gives
us a clue as to what kind of disease the person has," explains Dr. Brent Wood,
an associate director of the hematology and hematopathology laboratories at
the University of Washington Medical Center. "Then we talk to the clinician
and then they know what treatment to prescribe."
Wood's laboratory uses a wide variety of techniques for the diagnosis of
hematological and immunological disorders: morphologic examination of blood,
bone marrow, and lymph node, automated cell counting, traditional cytochemical
staining, immunocytochemical staining, flow cytometry and molecular diagnostic
Some of a hematopathologist's duties change depending on the workplace.
Wood has to conduct research and write papers as well as do clinical work.
Shepherd runs the blood lab and is the medical director of the hospital blood
"Hematopathologists aren't all the same beast," Shephard explains. "Some
do it all, some do one aspect and some do everything!"
New technologies permit pathologists to do more tests, perform more procedures
and treat conditions previously regarded as untreatable. Molecular biological
techniques -- DNA tests -- are an exciting new aspect of hematopathology.
In many ways, becoming a hematopathologist is a lifestyle choice. These
physicians work in hospital and clinical laboratories, universities and research
centers. Working in a laboratory instead of a clinic allows Shepherd to keep
a regular workweek. "It's an 8-to-6 job, whereas if you're a clinical person
you're on late nights."
People who want to become hematological pathologists must be self-motivated
and able to survive the pressures and long hours of a medical education and
practice. They must also be willing to study throughout their career to keep
up with medical advances.
Wood says anyone considering a career as a hematological pathologist should
be aware that it's a very specialized field. "You need a more general background
in pathology and a strong interest in science," he explains.
If you're still in high school, Shepherd recommends contacting the laboratory
physician at a hospital in your area. "Hang around for a couple days; see
what it's like," she suggests. You may discover laboratory medicine isn't
your thing, or you migth take an interest in some of the technical laboratory
jobs that take considerably less schooling.