Pathologist’s assistant (PathA) and his/her role in the surgical pathology department: a systematic review and a narrative synthesis

M. Bortesi, V. Martino, M. Marchetti, A. Cavazza, G. Gardini, E. Zanetti, M. C. Bassi, L. Ghirotto, M. Costantini, Simonetta Piana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent decades, various highly qualified individuals have increasingly performed tasks that have historically been handled by physicians with the aim of reducing their workload. Over time, however, these “physician assistants” or “physician extenders” have gained more and more responsibilities, showing that specific tasks can be performed equally skilfully by specialised health care professionals. The pathologist’s assistant (PathA) is a highly qualified technician who works alongside the pathologist and is responsible for the grossing and autopsies. This profession was developed in the USA, with formal training programmes starting in 1970 when Dr. Kinney, director of the Department of Pathology of Duke University, Durham, NC, started the first dedicated course. Most institutes in the USA and Canada currently employ these technical personnel for grossing, and numerous papers published over the years demonstrate the quality of the assistance provided by the PathA, which is equal to or sometimes even better than the performance of pathologists. The PathA can be employed to carry out a wide range of tasks to assist the pathologist, such as grossing (the description and reduction of surgical specimens), judicial autopsies and administrative and supervisory practices within the laboratory or assistance in research, although the diagnosis is always the pathologist’s responsibility. Since this role has already been consolidated in North America, part of the relevant literature is altogether out of date. However, the situation is different in Europe, where there is an increasing interest in PathA, mainly because of the benefits of their inclusion in anatomic pathology laboratories. In the UK, biomedical scientists (BMS, the British equivalent of PathA) are involved in many tasks both in surgical pathology and in cytopathology, which are generally performed by medically trained staff. Several papers have been recently published to highlight the role of BMS with the broader public. This report aimed to conduct a systematic review of all the articles published about the PathA/BMS and to perform a narrative synthesis. The results may contribute to the evidence for including the PAthA/BMS within a surgical pathology laboratory organisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalVirchows Archiv
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 29 2018


  • Anatomic pathology laboratory
  • Extenders
  • Grossing
  • Pathologist’s assistant
  • Surgical pathology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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