Medical careers and the pathologist

 

A chara, – Dr Tom O’Rourke (August 26th) makes a valid point that the practice of medicine is sufficiently broad to facilitate a range of personality types. In choosing pathology to illustrate a specialty where empathy is not required, I feel he veers towards cliche. Perhaps this stereotype stems from the misconception that pathologists are primarily engaged in autopsy examination. In fact, the major role of most modern pathologists is as surgical pathologists, who examine tissue samples (be they biopsy samples for diagnosis or surgical therapeutic excisions) in order to formulate diagnostic reports for living people.

An individual pathologist’s decisions impact on the lives of thousands of patients a year. The best pathologists are fully aware of the consequences of the nuances of their reports on the treatment the patient will undergo or the prognostic information they will receive.

Lest an aspiring doctor feel that their empathy-deficient personality may suggest an aptitude for a career in pathology, they should be aware that other social skills are sought after. These include the ability to successfully interact with a team of clerical, medical, scientific and laboratory aide staff to produce a diagnostic report, as well as the ability to clearly present often complex findings at cancer multidisciplinary team meetings where clinical decisions are made.

Pathologists undergoing specialist training are assessed not only on diagnostic skills but also on their commitment to ensuring an accurate, timely diagnosis for their patients. We may not meet our patients or have the task of communicating the news (be it good or bad) that our reports hold. However, I have yet to meet a good pathologist who doesn’t care. – Is mise,

CIARÁN Ó RIAIN,

Consultant

Histopathologist,

Dublin 7.