National Pathology Week

We find out about the life of a pathologist and what events we have to look forward to as part of National Pathology Week...
01 November 2009

Interview with 

Suzy Lishman, Royal College of Pathologists


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Kat - Now this week, there are events running all over the country as part of National Pathology Week.  This is giving people a chance to look into the work and the lives of pathologists.  And on the line now, we have Suzy Lishman from the Royal College of Pathologists to tell us more about this.  So hello Suzy. 

Suzy - Good evening.

The Hepatitis C Trust LogoKat -   Thanks for coming on the show.  Now, do tell us to start with, what on earth do pathologists do?  I have this vision that they're all in the lab wearing coats, cutting up dead people.  What do pathologists do?

Suzy -   Well, you're quite right there.  Research has shown that most people get their information about pathology from the television, watching things like CSI and Silent Witness.  And I'm afraid it's just not really like that.  There are over 6,000 pathologists and 20,000 scientists working in 18 different pathology specialities.  And less that 1% of those people actually work in forensics, the bit you tend to see on TV.  So, there's no typical day for a pathologist because they all do completely different things.  For example, I'm a histopathologist, a member of the largest specialty and I study disease by examining tissue with the naked eye and under the microscope, and that might be a biopsy, a small piece of tissue that's removed during an operation, anything up to a whole organ like a breast or a kidney or a limb.  So, I'm then involved in a team, deciding the best treatment to offer the patient according to what I can see when I have a look at that tissue.  But then, other big specialties include haematology, the study of diseases of the blood and the bone marrow, medical microbiology, looking at the diagnosis, management and control of all sorts of infections, clinical biochemistry, the diagnosis and treatment of disease through analysis of body fluids like blood and urine.

Kat -   So, you're pretty much covering the whole gamut of biology and medicine there with pathology?

Suzy -   That's right.  In fact, over 70% of all diagnoses in the NHS involve pathology in some way and over 700 million tests are done every year in the U.K.  That's an average of over 14 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Kat -   Impressive stuff.  So, tell us about National Pathology Week.  What sort of stuff are you focusing on this year?  It's the second year, isn't it?

Suzy -   Yes.  Last year we just had a general year when we said, "Pathologists and scientists, get out there and promote what you're doing."  We thought to give it a slightly different angle this year.  We've chosen the theme of the heart and out strapline is Pathology, the heart of modern health care.  So we're focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of all different types of heart disease by members of all the different pathology specialities. 

Kat -   So what sort of things do pathologists find out about heart disease?  What sort of things would you be looking at if someone comes to you with heart problems?

Suzy -   Well, pathologists are involved in even preventing heart disease developing in the first place which is a very important role so, for example, diagnosing and treating diseases like diabetes, keeping the blood sugar under control, checking people's cholesterol level to making sure that that doesn't build up because cholesterol is a risk factor for developing heart disease.  And also, genetics, geneticists are also pathologists and they can look at inherited diseases and enable people to be treated for heart disease before they even know they've got it.

Kat -   Fantastic stuff - so tell us about some of the heart-based events that you've got going on.

Suzy -   We've got an Awareness Day at the Royal College on Monday.  It's called Think Heart: Save the Baby's Life.  And what we're trying to do is raise awareness of some of the heart pathology that can present in the first week of a baby's life so that parents, midwives, and GPs can be aware of what to look out for because a lot of these disorders, although very serious, can be cured if they're picked up quickly enough.  There are also events around risk factors.  People have the opportunity to learn about some of the risk factors for heart disease like, high cholesterol, which I've mentioned, high blood pressure, poor diet, and do some interactive events to try and find out what various factors are. 

Kat -   And I understand you're also having a heart - the anatomy of a heart attack.  Looking at heart attacks.

Suzy -   I'm particularly looking forward to this one.  It's at the Royal Institution and I grew up watching their Christmas lectures so it's going to be real treat to organize an event in there.  Yes, we're going to have a virtual autopsy, with a model who's going to play the body and we have a pathologist Ali Winstanley who's going to come in and talk us through on autopsy and what we would do to look - what we would look for in somebody who has died of a suspected heart attack.  Ali's then going to dissect a pig's heart, for obvious reasons we can't dissect a human one, just to show a bit of the anatomy on what it is pathologists would look for at an autopsy.  And then we've got illustrations of what the diseased heart would look like so you can see the damage that is done.

Kat -   That sounds absolutely fascinating.  How can people find out about all these events and where to go?

Suzy -   We have a website and that has a full program.  We have now over 420 events taking place around the country, in schools, hospitals, shopping centres, libraries--absolutely everywhere.  So, do have a look.  They're arranged by regions so there should be something near you.


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