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What Does a Cytopathologist Do?

Andrew Kirmayer
By Andrew Kirmayer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A cytopathologist analyzes cell and tissue samples to diagnose conditions such as infections and cancer. Working in a hospital, clinic, or laboratory, he or she uses scientific equipment like microscopes and centrifuges to study blood and tissue samples collected from patients. It is common to work directly with physicians and surgeons to get details on a patient’s condition and to provide a diagnosis and suggestions for treatment. Cytopathologist duties also include interpreting the results of microbe, urine, hormone, and protein reaction tests. One must also be able to communicate well with both doctors and patients, and possess knowledge in a variety of disciplines.

Cytopathologist jobs usually hold regular work hours, but in large medical facilities, they may have to work specific shifts that could include evening work, and often involve handling multiple cases at once. The job requires an understanding of how cell samples are taken, so it is possible to guide a doctor such as an oncologist in getting the best sample possible. Samples can come back positive or negative or somewhere in between, so it is up to the person studying the cells to recommend treatment options to the physician. Comfort with working in a team environment is one of the requirements of cytopathologist jobs, and someone who works in a facility other than the physician must be able to trust the word of others.

Genetic analyses are conducted, and so are autopsies when the cause of death is unknown. The scientific work also involves conducting research to conclude on scientific findings that may be presented in a journal or at a large meeting. Cytopathologists also play a management role, both to staff and residents and sometimes for entire medical laboratories. Keeping up with new developments in pathology is also part of the job, by attending conferences, conferring with colleagues, and reading the literature of other professionals in the field.

To satisfy a cytopathologist job description, a professional must have keen abilities for reasoning, solving problems, verbal and written expression, and ordering information. Strong memorization skills and mathematical abilities are also needed, as well as an ability to educate others in the working environment. Becoming a cytopathologist is similar to becoming a doctor, with the prerequisites including a medical graduate degree and meeting two to three year residency requirements. He or she can work in a hospital, in a private research laboratory, or at a university.

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