Dr Albert Yin completed medical school in 2012. After four more years of training to be a physician, he decided to go against the grain and, realising that pathology was something that he was really interested in, began the five-year specialist training programme to become a pathologist. Dr Yin is now over three years into his pathology training, describing the experience as one of the most enjoyable in his medical career.
“Throughout medical school, I was very interested in the basic science of everything – how everything really works. Looking back now, it is obvious to me that that is what pathology is and that everything I enjoyed during my training had a strong pathological basis. For me, the really interesting thing about medicine is the diagnosis. It is working out what the disease actually is, and what is happening behind the scenes. How things work – I think that is the essence of pathology.
“It wasn’t until I started a pathology training scheme at The Alfred that I realised the full extent of how interesting pathology could be. My philosophy has always been that in order to be a good doctor, you have to know everything. I tend to shift away from the idea that we all have to be specialists and prefer the idea of being a generalist. What really appealed to me about pathology was the depth at which you have to know everything.
“You learn about so many things in medical school, including the theory about why something is important, but you can never really understand it until you see it in real life. You don’t understand a disease until you can hold it in your hands. For me, having spent so much time on the wards, treating people with diseases but not actually understanding what it was that I was treating, gave me a real appreciation for how important pathology is.
“I think what makes my job so enjoyable, is that learning is a critical part of the role, and there is dedicated time to learn. I think very few people can say that. It is an amazing specialty which allows you to learn everything that you need to. There is the opportunity to sit down with consultants to work through a problem and think about it systematically – it is not as rushed, or time pressured as emergency or intensive care.
“In regard to the job aspect of training, we receive surgical specimens that surgeons have cut out due to cancer or disease. We examine these specimens, process them onto slides and look at them under a microscope with a consultant. I believe that being able to handle these things is a very privileged position to have. It is incredibly interesting to see disease, to touch it, hold it and see it with your own eyes. It is not some theoretical black and white picture that a CT scan would provide – you can actually see what’s happening with your own eyes.
“I think a lot of medical students, interns and junior doctors have the same perspective as me, but I suspect they haven’t had a similar exposure to pathology to be able to recognise it. I would recommend that they speak to a pathologist or to the pathology registrars in a pathology lab to talk about options.”