International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Sahanya Galpottage is a 16 year old student at Epsom Girls Grammar. She is in her final year and plans to study Medical Sciences at University.

As part of International Day of Women and Girls in Science she posed 10 questions to Melissa Yssel, Chemical Pathologist at WSCL.

Sahanya’s Questions to Melissa

1. What do you do?

I am a chemical pathologist. Chemical pathology (also known as clinical biochemistry) involves the biochemical investigation of body fluids such as blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid. By discovering how and where the body’s chemical reactions have changed, disease can be diagnosed and monitored.

2. What do you love the most about your job?

Being part of a team that has your back. Pathology is all about collaboration and teamwork, and there is a genuine spirit of cooperation and shared goals in the Biochemistry department at WSCL that I have not found anywhere else.

3. What advice would you give to younger students who aspire to have a career in your field of work? 

It takes time to build a professional career – be willing to compromise and even sacrifice some things to build the career you want, it will be more than worth it in the end. Always remain open to possibilities and trust your gut.

4. What degree did you undertake to be in your current role?

I completed a 6-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) plus 2 years’ internship to become a medical doctor. I then completed a 5-year Fellowship in Chemical Pathology (FRCPath) to become a chemical pathologist.

5. How many years of study were required for your career?

13 years in total, but you will be a perpetual student when you are a pathologist as you will learn something new every day.

6. How do you think the industry has changed over the years?

Pathology has become much more digital and analysers are sophisticated and high-tech. We can no longer function properly in the laboratory without IT support. When I started work as a pathologist we did not have an integrated laboratory information systems (LIS) and each hospital only had one central computer (running on a DOS program), for which we had to queue. Patient results were mostly transcribed by hand, and the Special Biochemistry department was “real” chemistry – bubbling glass tubes, colour-changing solutions and some explosions!

7. Has the development of A.I. impacted your career?

The use of AI in pathology is not new and was probably introduced more out of necessity than being the outcome of a revolutionary modern development. Laboratory testing today is the single highest-volume activity in healthcare (it has even been claimed that up to two-thirds of all medical decisions made by clinicians every day are based on laboratory test information). This ever-increasing number of test requests led to pathologists no longer being able to make individual and personalised comments on each patient report, but rather lead to the use of AI to aid interpretations through “intelligent commenting”. “Intelligent commenting” uses sequences of individually (human) written statements, which when combined through machine learning with individual numeric values and ratios, test combinations, and in some instances clinical information, form logic paragraphs of personalised information that can be informative or interpretative to aid clinical diagnosis or monitoring of an individual patient.

8. Would you have pictured yourself with your current career ten years ago?

Well, 10 years ago, I would have to answer “absolute yes”, but this would be just because I have been a pathologist for more than 20 years! After med school though, I have to admit I never pictured myself as a pathologist, or any other medical specialist for that matter. I always just wanted to be a general practioner. While working in Family medicine after my internship, the pathology bug bit and I became fascinated by this intriguing field.

9. How has COVID 19 impacted your career? 

In the laboratory, we are always very vigilant about safe working practices because of the inherent risk and infectious nature of any given patient sample that arrives in the laboratory every second of the day. Handwashing, sanitising and cleaning of workspaces are just part of your everyday routine.  COVID-19 has however, placed a lot of emotional stress and pressure on healthcare workers. Working in a laboratory means you and your family are at a higher risk if something at work goes wrong. Luckily, we have an incredible team at WSCL that not only supported each other during lockdown, but every day.

10. Can you share something most people don’t know or understand about pathology?

Pathology is like a crime novel and the pathologist is the detective who gathers “evidence” (patient test results) in order to try to solve a “crime” (the disease) through connections and associations. You have to be inquisitive if you want to become a pathologist.