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A Pathologist's Four Hats


Cytology is the study of individual cells to detect abnormal cells. Cytology is used almost extensively to diagnose cancer. In addition, cytology can be used as a screening test, for example, screening for cervical cancer with the use of a PAP smear. Cells to be examined may be obtained from: scraping the tissue surface (like in a PAP smear, where the cervix is scraped by a spatula), body fluids (like urine, pleural fluid), and fine needle aspirations (removing cells by drawing them through a needle). Cytology is different than surgical pathology which studies grouping of cells which form tissues.

Surgical pathology

Surgical pathology is the study of tissues removed from living patients during surgery or a procedure to help diagnose a disease and determine the treatment plan. The surgical pathologist works closely with surgeons and other physicians. This communication enables excellent patient care. Often, the surgical pathologist provides immediate consultation to the surgeon during the surgery to assist in the diagnosis and management of the patient. Surgical pathology includes both the physical examination of tissue with the naked eye, and examining the processed tissue under a microscope. Surgical pathology specimens include biopsies obtained in a physicians’ office or in a hospital setting or resections obtained from a surgeon in the operating room.

Clinical Pathology

Clinical pathology covers a wide range of laboratory functions and is concerned with the diagnosis, patient care, and prevention of disease. Clinical pathologists look at the body’s biochemical processes. Clinical pathologist direct all the special divisions of the laboratory which include blood bank, clinical chemistry, hematology, immunology and serology, coagulation medicine, and microbiology. Clinical pathologist looks at blood, urine, or body fluid specimens under a microscope or using highly sophisticated computerized analyzers. Lab Tests Online is a web site that will help you understand your laboratory tests and the personnel inside the laboratory, behind the scenes, who are responsible for delivering high quality and reliable results.

At Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa, there are four clinical laboratories. Two are located on the main campus:  Medical Office Building East Suite 185, and the Hospital laboratory. The two off campus sites are located at the Rohnert Park Medical Offices 5900 State Farm Drive, Rohnert Park [Map ] and the Richard Stein Medical Office Building 4 Suite 243 3925 Old Redwood Highway, Santa Rosa [Map ]. If you are seeing your doctor in a clinic and laboratory tests are ordered, it is encouraged that you go to one of the Medical Office Building Suites as close to your doctor’s office as they tend to have the shortest wait times.


Autopsy is an examination of the body after death to determine the presence and extent of pathologic processes. In contrast to forensic/criminal autopsies where the cause of death is dramatic, the actual cause of death is usually not determined in a medical autopsy. For example, a patient with cancer will usually show spread (metastasis) of the cancer at autopsy, but, these patients commonly die of infection or bleeding secondary to low blood counts which may not be well visualized at autopsy. A popular perception is that the pathologist’s major responsibility is performing autopsies. Although an autopsy is an important part of the diagnosis of deadly diseases, it is only a very small part of the typical pathologist’s practice.