Meet the medical detectives

Dr Jaswini Sivalingam (l) and Dr Naomi Fletcher (r) are both anatomical pathology registrars at the Canberra Hospital pathology, RAPC, scholarship, anatomical pathology, career in pathology, Jaswini Sivalingam, Naomi Fletcher, Sarah Leong, Adaab Azam

Written by Barb Corapi

“If you enjoy problem solving, have a keen eye for detail, are a visual thinker and learner and are self-motivated, then a career in pathology may be for you,” says Dr Naomi Fletcher, an ANU Medical School alum who is now an anatomical pathologist registrar at the Canberra Hospital.

“We’re like detectives solving a mystery, employing critical thinking and problem solving skills to arrive at a diagnosis,” adds fellow pathology registrar and also Medical School alumna, Dr Jaswini Sivalingam.  

“The best part of my job is the thrill and satisfaction of diagnosing an interesting or complicated case,” Dr Sivalingam enthuses. “I work with a team that primarily diagnoses cancer in patients and work closely with clinicians and surgeons to guide treatment and management.”

“Pathologists work alongside almost all medical specialties and no two days are ever the same. One day we may be doing macroscopic assessment and cut up of tissues, the next we could be undertaking microscopic examination and diagnosis.” Dr Fletcher advises.

Both doctors are undertaking a five-year anatomical pathology training program at the Canberra Hospital, which involves yearly examinations, logbook entries and continued professional development requirements. 

The training program allows them to experience a range of responsibilities under the guidance and supervision of consultant pathologists. They also perform perinatal autopsies, assist in frozen sections in theatre, and are involved in research projects and teaching of medical students – to name just a few of the activities of their varied role.

As part of their teaching responsibilities, it is likely Dr Fletcher and Dr Sivalingam will meet third year ANU medical student, Mr Adaab Azam, and fourth year student, Ms Sarah Leong, who have both been awarded scholarships by The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RACPA) to undertake a pathology elective at the Canberra Hospital.

“The elective will provide a broad introduction to the many areas of pathology including anatomical, immunopathology, haematology, microbiology and genetic pathology,” Ms Leong says. “In the first two weeks, we’ll rotate through these areas, observing procedures such as surgical cut-ups, frozen sections and autopsies to gain insight and understanding.”

“The second two weeks will be devoted to working on a medical education project. My project will involve updating and creating new material for tutorials pertaining to pathology. Plus, the Canberra Hospital has a pathology museum with anatomical specimens for which I will be writing up questions to assist with student revision.”

Mr Azam will also undertake an educational project explaining, “My project will explore the principals and structure of how pathology content is taught to medical students on their paediatrics rotations. Specifically, how and what areas of content delivery can be improved from a clinical and examination stand point.”

“Prior to entering medicine I worked as a researcher in a drug development lab investigating therapies for triple negative breast cancer. To now explore the clinical foundations of pathology and utilise the same tools of blotting, PCR, flow cytometry, electrophoresis, and microscopy in a clinical setting really appeals to me,” remarks Mr Azam.

Ms Leong adds, “I absolutely see myself working in pathology after medical school, so I hope that this elective will steer me towards the area of pathology that I’m best suited to. I am very excited to meet and work alongside our colleagues in pathology and can’t wait to get started.”