A histopathologist is a clinical laboratory doctor who specializes in detecting and analyzing disease in body tissue samples. He or she plays a very important role in confirming patient diagnoses and determining the best course of treatment for various conditions. Using sophisticated laboratory equipment and techniques, a histopathologist can identify viruses, bacteria, cancer, and other abnormalities at the cellular level. Most professionals work in hospitals and specialty clinics, though some histopathologists are employed by private research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and animal care centers.
Histopathologists utilize microscopes, chemical dyes, lasers, and scalpels to carefully investigate the components of tissue samples. With the aid of histology technicians and other specialists, a histopathologist can identify a particular disease and advise physicians on the best ways to treat it. In order to ensure accuracy, he or she may need to review established research literature about a disease. The doctor keeps detailed notes about laboratory procedures and writes official reports regarding his or her findings.
A number of histopathologists specialize with particular types of tissue or certain diseases to provide expert analysis of samples. Some professionals focus on the heart and blood vessels, for example, while others investigate problems related to the lungs or brain. A histopathologist may also concentrate on diagnosing cancer, viral infections, or autoimmune disorders.
Some histopathologists choose to work in veterinary medicine, applying the same skills used in hospital laboratories to detect disease in animal tissue. Others perform forensic investigations, participating in autopsies to discover the causes of death and aid in criminal investigations. In addition, a histopathologist might conduct general scientific research at a university or pharmaceutical company to examine the affects of medications on different diseases in order to help establish better treatment methods.
A person who wants to become a histopathologist must first earn a degree from an accredited four-year medical school. Following graduation, a new doctor usually begins a three- to four-year residency program at a hospital laboratory to gain firsthand experience in histology and pathology practice. During a residency, an individual attends regular lectures and works alongside established pathologists to master the skills needed to perform the job.
A new histopathologist is required to pass an extensive certification exam following residency training in order to start working independently. Certification is administered by a specialized regional or national governing board, such as the American Board of Pathology in the United States. Becoming certified is essential to pursue permanent careers in hospitals and private practices.