Pathologist... your doctor's doctors

November 9, 2021

Dr. Erik Nohr

Dr. Erik Nohr is a molecular pathologist at the Alberta Children’s hospital in Calgary. Behind the microscope, the molecular pathologist is analyzing a patient’s laboratory samples to better understand what they’re dealing with and how their primary health physician can offer support and a treatment program for the diagnosis they are given.

Photo by Leah Hennel

Dr. Soufiane El Hallani

Dr. Soufiane El Hallani, APL’s scientific lead for Molecular Pathology in Edmonton, is making great strides in their field to standardize processes that impact molecular pathology testing to ensure accurate and reliable test results, in particular patients diagnosed with cancer.

Photo by Evan Isbister

Alberta Precision Laboratories celebrates International Pathology Day

Story by Nicole Ouellet & Grady Semmens

In the medical world, pathologists are your doctor’s right hand, and their left one, too. They are your doctor’s doctor — and they are central to a patient’s diagnosis and treatment.

Pathologists work behind the scenes but are foundational to the medical profession. They are medical doctors who are part of a patient’s healthcare team, even though they may never meet the patient. Pathologists oversee a broad range of lab tests including blood tests, medical microbiology, molecular testing, and interpretation of tissue samples such as biopsies and surgical specimens. Pathologists make diagnoses, convey prognostic information, guide next steps in treatment and monitor outcomes.

“At Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL), pathologists play a critical role in patient care and research. The term ‘pathology’ means ‘study of disease’ — and the understanding of human disease developed and applied by pathologists is foundational to the medical profession overall,” says Dr. Erik Nohr, a molecular and perinatal/pediatric pathologist with APL and the education lead for the Alberta Molecular Pathology Program. “This knowledge is essential to advancing medicine and devising new treatments to fight infections, cancer, and other diseases.

“Behind the microscope, the pathologist is analyzing a patient’s tissue samples to better understand what they are dealing with and how their primary healthcare physician and/or specialists can offer support and treatment for the diagnosis.”

Any patient material removed from the body during surgery or a day procedure — such as a tissue biopsy or cancerous tumour — will be analyzed by a pathologist, often down to the molecular level. The tissue diagnosis and other clinically relevant features are documented in a pathology report which is then shared with the patient’s clinical team. Pathologists also frequently communicate and discuss cases directly with the clinical team, as part of a multidisciplinary approach to providing best care for patients.

Dr. Nohr, along with Dr. Soufiane El Hallani, APL’s scientific lead for Molecular Pathology in Edmonton, and other members of the Alberta Molecular Pathology Program, are making great strides in their field to standardize and improve molecular pathology testing to ensure accurate, reliable and clinically valuable test results, in particular for patients diagnosed with cancer.

The vision of the Alberta Molecular Pathology Program is health informed by world-class integrated laboratory diagnostics, to help patients and clinicians make more precise and insightful decisions.

“By analyzing the molecules within a patient’s organs, tissues or bodily fluids, we can predict their response to certain anti-cancer treatments based on their genetic makeup,” says Dr. Hallani.

“The high levels of sensitivity provided by molecular tests allows for the detection of cancer at very early stages and as a result we can diagnose, provide treatment which improves patient care and better outcomes for survival.”

Saving lives and improving a patient’s prognosis is definitely worth recognizing — and International Pathology Day is the official way to celebrate. Each year in November, medical professionals from around the globe come together to share the contributions and achievements of pathology and laboratory medicine.

Alberta Precision Laboratories employs more than 250 laboratory physicians and scientists, and we are actively recruiting for several pathologist positions across the province. Learn more about our current opportunities on our Careers page.