The reality is less exhausting but just as interesting! Pathology, although literally meaning 'the study of disease', is a branch of clinical medicine with three important components:
So, what are these? Well, I'll deal with them one at a time...
HistopathologyHistopathology is the diagnosis of disease by studying tissue samples (histology). These range from tiny biopsies (for instance, from someone's stomach taken by endoscopy) to organs removed at an operation (e.g. a colon containing a cancer). From these specimens, we select areas to take sections from, which are stained and examined under a microscope.
This is the major part of most pathologist's job. We're the people who tell other doctors what disease their patient has, whether it is benign (nice) or malignant (nasty), and whether or not it is out. Very few diagnoses of cancer are made without our help, and we play an essential role in deciding the correct treatment for an individual patient.
To put it another way - the buck stops here!
CytologyCytology is the diagnosis of disease from individual cells, such as cervical smears or fluid from cysts. This is much faster to perform than histology, but has more limited diagnostic abilities: generally, cytology is used as a rapid screening test to determine whether something is malignant or not, with further biopsy being used to get a definitive, histological diagnosis.
AutopsiesAutopsies are performed in two situations: at the request of clinicians (with relatives' consent) to determine the cause of death, and to see whether the correct diagnosis was made in life and the appropriate treatment given, and at the request of the Coroner, if a death is suspicious or the cause cannot be ascertained (for instance, the deceased had not recently been seen by a doctor). The second case is by far the more common these days.
Those who specialise in autopsies are Forensic Pathologists - they're a bit like your Quincys and your Amanda Burtons!