San Diego, California - Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) sees hundreds of patients, making hundreds of diagnoses daily, about 70% of which are based off of lab results.

By examining and evaluating tissue samples, staff pathologists play a critical role in the mission of NMCSD, delivering quality healthcare services.

“The pathology department’s mission is to provide and optimally manage essential ancillary clinical services needed to support the Department of Defense’s largest medical center and training facility,” said Lt. Sasha Betz, a NMCSD staff pathologist.

Each pathologist views about 30 slides of tissue weekly. These slides provide the pathologist the opportunity to make a diagnosis for the patient.

“We are behind-the-scenes since we don’t see patients in-person, but we are a critical part of the patient management team,” said Betz. “Our department has a wide breadth of experience and knowledge, to include eight fellowship-trained pathologists.”

NMCSD has pathologists who specialize in gastrointestinal pathology, breast pathology, dermatopathology, head and neck pathology, cytology, hematopathology, neuropathology, and molecular pathology. All are areas which play critical roles in patient diagnosis.

The pathology technicians provide all the slides to the pathologists for testing.

“In the lab we prepare the slides for the pathologists,” said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Meagan Teston, a pathology technician at NMCSD. “We work hand-in-hand with the civilian techs and the pathologists.”

From the start, once a provider identifies a lesion on their patient that raises a clinical concern, they take a sample of the tissue, called a biopsy, and send it to the laboratory for histopathologic diagnosis. The laboratory processes the tissue sample into a slide by cutting it very thinly and applying stains that highlight the cells under a microscope.

“The slide is then given to the pathologist,” said Betz. “By looking at the architecture of the lesion and features of the cells under the microscope, the pathologist can determine the cause of the lesion and give it a diagnosis.”

Pathologists can diagnose benign growths, meaning non-cancerous and not a danger to the body, such as moles, infectious conditions such as oral thrush, or immune-mediated conditions like lichen planus, or inflammatory skin. They also diagnose cancers and, when they do, pathologists are included in the team that helps determine what type of treatment is best for the patient.

All of our pathology technicians, like Teston, and our staff pathologists, like Betz, play significant roles in NMCSDs mission: to prepare to deploy in support of operational forces, deliver quality health care services, and shape the future of military medicine through education, training and research. The pathology team assists the hospital in being the nation’s premier military medical center, providing world-class care anytime, anywhere.