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Hematological Pathologist  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotPathology 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.

dotLike 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."

dotWood'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 tests.

dotSome 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 bank.

"Hematopathologists aren't all the same beast," Shephard explains. "Some do it all, some do one aspect and some do everything!"

dotNew 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.

dotIn 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."

dotPeople 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.

At a Glance

Study blood diseases

  • Working in a laboratory instead of a clinic allows for a regular workweek
  • These doctors spend twice as much time in training as clinical physicians
  • Hematopathology is one of 24 subspecialties pathologists can choose to enter