Pathologists are specialist physicians who are experts in the diagnosis of cancer, the use of laboratory tests in medical practice and forensic pathology.
To become a pathologist, about 12 years of post-secondary education is needed. After completing a medical school, a physician usually studies for at least five years and passes a rigorous certification examination in Laboratory Medicine from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
Pathologists are experts in the use of laboratory tests to diagnose and treat disease. For example, the diagnosis of cancer on a breast biopsy or in a blood smear is performed by a pathologist. Critical decisions, such as the proper and cost-effective use of blood transfusion products, choice of antibiotics and test panels, are made regularly, by pathologists. They also provide an essential community service by performing forensic examinations.
Pathologists are major figures in the education of medical students and other healthcare professionals, including continuing education, essential to maintaining high quality. Pathologists, as the directors of medical laboratories, are responsible for the sophisticated laboratory tests on samples of tissues or fluids, and the quality and accuracy of the results. They work as part of a team with other physicians, hospital administrators and other healthcare professionals to ensure that high standards are maintained in the laboratory and that laboratory test utilization is appropriate and cost-effective. Pathologists are also major practitioners of medical informatics – the science of providing health information quickly, accurately, and keyed to patient-care needs – using all of the burgeoning computer-based tools that are at the forefront of transforming modern society.