Case study

Trainee histopathologist — Dr Ben Challoner

Ben loves the practical work and opportunities available in this specialty. Find out how his training is progressing

How did you get your job as a histopathologist?

I studied a degree in biochemistry before going into medicine. During my first degree I worked in a medical laboratory and met some doctors, which influenced my decision to study medicine.

During the final year of my medical degree I opted for a module in histopathology and found that it really interested me. After two years of foundation training I applied for a job in histopathology.

What's a typical day like?

I receive specimens in the lab, typically organ resections or skin excisions. The diseases that I usually work with are divided into inflammatory conditions or cancer.

I assess the specimen prior to processing and microscope slide preparation. When the slides come back from the lab, I'm involved in classifying diseases. I can be working on a number of cases at any one time.

One day a week I perform a post-mortem to decide the cause of death. I examine the body and organs to look for disease, liaising with the coroner. I sometimes attend inquests, where the circumstances of death are investigated.

I don't have direct patient contact, but contribute to multidisciplinary team meetings, where I communicate with doctors.

What do you enjoy about your job?

There's lots of variety and as a trainee you get to work with all the specialties, although as a consultant you generally sub-specialise.

I enjoy the fact there's lots of practical work, such as organ dissection. There are lots of opportunities to go into research.

You also get the chance to have a break in your training, for example, to take a six-month molecular pathology course, which may lead to a PhD.

What are the challenges?

The workload is heavy and I have lots of cases to work through.

When I've sent for further tests and they come back days or weeks later, it's sometimes difficult to keep track.

You're also under pressure to get written reports out to clinicians and prepare cases for multidisciplinary team meetings.

How is the role developing?

I'm in the second year of a five-and-a-half year programme. I'm well supervised and there's always someone to help if I have any questions.

As you go through your training you become more independent. You're more involved in running multidisciplinary team meetings and presenting post-mortem results at inquest. Once fully qualified you're wholly independent.

Any tips for someone who wants to get into histopathology?

As a medical student, make sure you talk to pathologists. Follow the patient's journey and discover how a diagnosis is confirmed.

Also complete a clinical audit (where you compare healthcare practice with guidelines for good practice) or a research project.

Find out more