What is pathology?

Pathology is a scientific discipline which involves the study of diseases, such as infections and cancers, at the genetic, molecular, cellular, and organ levels. It is also a medical specialty that focuses on making diagnoses, but contrary to popular belief, it is not all about blood tests!
Pathology examines:
  • How and why diseases develop;
  • The disease process - what happens to our bodies when we are ill; and
  • The effects of diseases, including their symptoms and complications.
Research has always been a cornerstone of pathology, because an understanding of disease contributes to the development of diagnostic tests and better measures for prevention and treatment. This is well illustrated by the Nobel Prize-winning work of the Australian team of Barry Marshall and Robin Warren (a pathologist) who identified the organism Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. 
It has been estimated that pathology plays a critical role in more than 70% of clinical diagnoses and many of the decisions around the optimal treatment for patients. For example, the diagnostic skills of pathologists allow patients to know if they are pregnant, anaemic, diabetic, at risk of heart disease, or if their lump is cancerous. 
What do pathologists do?
Pathologists are medical doctors with postgraduate training in one or more sub-specialties. Service pathologists perform diagnostic and clinical work, often in hospitals (anatomical pathologists, haematologists, clinical biochemists, medical microbiologists, immunologists and molecular cytogeneticists), while academic pathologists are primarily involved in research and teaching. Many medical pathologists have both service and academic roles. 
Medical scientists trained in pathology also have both service and academic roles, including in diagnostic laboratories and in medical research. 

Who teaches pathology?

Academic staff of the Department of Pathology are involved in delivering a range of courses relevant to the broad discipline of pathology, including basic pathology in Stage 2, and more specialised courses in Stage 3, which focus on the molecular basis of disease processes such as inflammatory and infectious disease, musculoskeletal disease and cancer.

Studying pathology at UNSW
Pathology is an essential component of all undergraduate programs in Medicine at UNSW. It is also available as a specialisation within the Bachelor of Science, the Bachelor of Advanced Science and the Bachelor of Medical Science programs. Please visit our Undergraduate Programs section for more information.
Undergraduate study in pathology involves examination of various disease processes such as inflammation (including infections), wound healing and cancer. Students become familiar with examining both macroscopic specimens and the microscopic differences between normal and abnormal cells, tissues and organs. In our modern teaching facilities, much of the study of microscopic abnormalities is undertaken using computer-based “virtual” microscopy. Courses offered in pathology allow in-depth study of many fascinating and important disorders such as meningitis, tuberculosis, auto-immune diseases, congenital diseases, a variety of cancers, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, asthma, musculoskeletal diseases and the human version of 'mad cow disease'. 
Students may gain advanced training by undertaking a postgraduate research program within a pathology research unit. These units are involved in basic and applied research vital to our understanding of common disorders such as infectious diseases, atherosclerosis, asthma, colorectal cancer and arthritis, as well as the educational effectiveness of innovations in teaching. Please visit the Research Groups section to find out more about current research areas.

image - Pathology