Day in the Life of a Resident & Core Attributes: Pathology

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Pathology is a different path to many, with much less focus on patient contact, and less likelihood of encountering high pressure situations. It’s equally a path that focuses on careful, diligent work, and that will therefore appeal to many because of this. Here we’ll take a look at a typical day for a pathology resident, and consider the attributes that are necessary for success in the field.

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Day in the Life of a Pathology Resident

A typical service day might start at around 8am. Expect to spend some time revisiting previous cases and editing any reports, before checking in with seniors. For each case that you present, you’ll likely have a differential diagnosis, list of special stains that you might request, and some questions to ask of your seniors as well.

0900: Morning signouts. Your mission here is to be concise and focus on areas in which you need additional help from seniors. One-on-one tuition is important in pathology, and there’s perhaps more time for it than in other specialties. You should expect to spend a significant amount of time each day receiving advice from others, with your attending working out of the same room as you.

Expect to spend time working alone, reviewing histories or examining cases through the microscope, and working with staff. You’ll likely have questions to ask based on the cases that you’ve encountered, and some areas that are unclear to you and with which you need help.

1200: Morning service finishes. You go to get lunch with other residents. You have teaching each day, which is an hour long. It varies from day to day, but over the course of a week you will have a range of interesting cases presented to you by other residents or senior members of the team, the chance to review a journal article together with other junior residents, and a one-on-one teaching session focusing on a core condition.

1300: Afternoon session. You will spend time writing up reports, again being sure to focus on any areas of uncertainty. You may also be able to take on some research. By the end of the day you will have completed all your case logs, and you’re ready to go home by 1800.

Of course, your day will vary depending on where you are assigned. Some areas will start work at 7am, or even earlier, with a number of slides having to be previewed before a lecture at 8, for example. As a surgical pathologist, you might find yourself in for 0630. Surgical pathology might also see part of the morning spent grossing specimens as well as previewing slides. This is a busier part of pathology, with calls from surgeons to deal with, as well as a range of other administrative and clinical tasks.

Alternatively, work in the blood bank, for example, could prove a little easier. You might be in for 8am with a lecture to attend, which lasts for one hour. After this, you spend the day writing consults for transfusion reactions and performing antibody workups. Here, you see patients each day, with some patients needing regular transfusions and therefore becoming well known to you. You finish your day at 1700, having had an hour of teaching from the attending beforehand, and with your consults signed out at 1600.

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Core Attributes of Pathology Residents

Pathology residents will have a true interest in the scientific side of Medicine, and typically will have displayed interest in research throughout medical school. Core attributes are problem solving; attention to detail; and the ability to work carefully and diligently under time pressure. You’ll need to be able to focus on specific details and information with a vast amount of other data or within a bigger picture, and be able to work through a number of slides within a short period of time. You’ll need to have the communication skills to relay your findings efficiently to those that need to make use of them, and to discuss with patients as appropriate. Ensure that you have reflected on how you fit the role of a pathologist, and how the attributes for this particular field tie in with your own – you will need to demonstrate them at interview.

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