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Nov 3, 2000
The Belt
  1. Attending Physician
In the spirit of creating new threads....here's another random question :)

Just to give you some context, I'm planning on doing a rotation fourth year in autopsy pathology at Stanford (univ hospital) or UCSF. Do you know how many autopsies these programs do? Does it really matter??

and along that same vein...does a rotation in surg path give you a good idea about what practicing pathology is like? If not, where would you get that experience (especially as an MSIII-IV)?

thanks for being so patient!! :D


Moderator Emeritus
15+ Year Member
Aug 15, 2003
Fixing in 10% neutral buffered formalin
  1. Attending Physician
caffeinegirl said:
does a rotation in surg path give you a good idea about what practicing pathology is like? If not, where would you get that experience (especially as an MSIII-IV)?

Sorry to say, but my answer (in my opinion) to that question is no, it does not. I guess, in general, that the answer to this depends on where you actually do the rotation. Many places that allow students to come on path rotations really don't let you do much of anything except 1) follow the resident around, and 2) Look at slides during the signout. Most likely you will have very little opportunity to gross things in unless you are aggressive with your learning. If you are aggressive, you can get a good experience, maybe. Doing an elective rotation generally presents surg path as a bit more boring than it actually is, so don't get discouraged. YOu really do need several weeks to months to actually start to figure things out enough to know what a career in path is actually like. Doing a rotation in surg path can help you define your interest in the field more though, and it is definitely worth it. Don't expect it to give you a realistic sense of day-to-day pathology life. Some people might disagree with me, and argue that you will see enough variety and have enough time there to give you a good idea on what it is like. Unfortunately, most med students or other residents do rotations in path so that they can leave early and arrive late, or study for another exam.

I guess, my point is that you have to be an advocate for your own education and make sure you get what you want out of it.

So, you say, how does a would-be pathologist make the best use of their med school elective time? Do the best you can. Unfortunately path is not like medicine where you can get a great idea of what daily life is like by spending a week with the team. You only scratch the surface in path. The first few weeks of it are usually spent trying to figure out what the terminology is, getting used to looking at surg path slides, knowing what is important, and learning basic reaction patterns. By the time you start to figure this out, the rotation is over and it may seem like it might not fit for your career. To me, pathology is a field that becomes more interesting and fascinating the more time you spend in it. Like a logarithmic curve. The amount you learn and get out of things increases exponentially the more time you spend. You definitely want to do a rotation in path to see what it is like though, I am not saying don't do it. I am just saying that don't be discouraged if you find it not quite as interesting as you thought initially.

In regards to your autopsy question, academic med centers vary from as low as one autopsy per week to more than 3 a day. The busier places generally have a couple of residents on the service at one time, or use a different sort of system to assign people to autopsies, in order to make this palatable. YOu would want to ask to make sure that a 4 week rotation doesn't have the chance of you only seeing a couple of cases, if that is the reason for doing the rotation. Most places, like I said, this won't be an issue. I would think Stanford and UCSF are big enough so that you will see plenty.

Doctor B.

Slappin' That Glass
7+ Year Member
15+ Year Member
Jun 30, 2003
On The Flipside
The surg path rotation 4th year is the standard rotation to take at most places if you are interested in pathology. It will give you some idea of what praciticing pathology is like but most surg path rotations are at academic institutions and so you may not get a real sense of what private practice pathology is like. However, it will give you great insight as to what residency is like which, as a 4th year student, is a more immediate concern.
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