What is pathology?

Pathology is the study of disease. It is the bridge between science and medicine. It underpins every aspect of patient care, from diagnostic testing and treatment advice to using cutting-edge genetic technologies and preventing disease.

Doctors and scientists working in pathology are experts in illness and disease. They use their expertise to support every aspect of healthcare, from guiding doctors on the right way to treat common diseases, to using cutting-edge genetic technologies to treat patients with life-threatening conditions.

Pathologists play a critical role in research, advancing medicine and devising new treatments to fight viruses, infections and diseases like cancer.

In the last 100 years, we’ve seen significant reductions in illnesses such as polio across the world, as well as major advances in blood transfusion, vaccination and treatment of inherited conditions. This is all thanks to the pioneering work of pathologists.

Who works in pathology?

There are teams of medical staff and scientists whose job it is to study samples from a person’s body – tissue, bone and bodily fluids – to understand what’s making them unwell.

These teams are made up of pathologists – doctors with specialist training – consultant clinical scientists, laboratory technicians and other support staff, working together to prevent, diagnose and treat illness and disease.

Doctors, nurses, surgeons and other medical staff look to pathologists and consultant clinical scientists for advice on the nature and seriousness of a patient’s illness, making sure they get the most appropriate treatment.

  • If your blood doesn’t clot properly – it’s a haematologist who will conduct the blood tests, confirm if you have haemophilia, and offer treatment.
  • When there’s an outbreak of infection in a hospital  for example MRSA, it’s a clinical virologist who will advise the infection control teams and work hard to contain the infection.
  • For those having trouble getting pregnant – it’s a reproductive scientist who will investigate, diagnose and, where possible, treat any infertility issues.

Pathologists also play important roles in a range of research, from investigating the effects of new drugs in clinical trials to profiling the behaviour of viruses and bacteria. 

Find out more about the different areas of pathology

Although we collectively call them pathologists and clinical scientists, people who work in pathology services tend to specialise in particular areas – indeed, there are 17 of them.