Embracing the 'gross' side of pathology


Before entering university, Terry Lee Robins, Master of Clinical Sciences–Pathologists' Assistant candidate, struggled to find an academic path that could satisfy his competing interests and aspirations.
He initially considered psychology, but in the end his interest in the physical and relative aspect of science prevailed and he pursued his Bachelor of science with a focus on toxicology.
It was the first step in his journey which led him to the MClSc–Pathologists’ Assistant graduate program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
Like many science students, during his undergraduate years Robins worked in labs conducting experiments and research. When not in class, he worked at Vive Crop Protection, a start-up company in Guelph, Ontario, testing pesticide formulations and developing data for the chemists to show each product’s efficacies.
During his final year of study, Robins took a course in toxicological pathology. It explored general ideas associated with pathology and introduced him to grossing — the process of examining and describing a specimen on a macroscopic level. For Robins, grossing was intriguing and, in fact, became his favourite part of the class.
Nearing the end of his undergraduate degree and looking for career options, Robins learned about the MClSc-PA graduate program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. He felt that it could be an option that blended his new found interests and his passion for science.
“I didn’t know the MClSc-PA graduate program existed before I found it online, but when I read up on it, I realized that it was exactly what I wanted to do,” Robins said.
The reputation of the MClSc-PA graduate program program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry was another aspect that attracted him to the school.
“Out of all the programs I looked at, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s program was the most well-established and hands-on in terms of the type of experience you get,” he said. “The small class size of just six people was another thing that attracted me.”
With a variety of clinical and practicum placements at centres like Mount Sinai Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre, SickKids and the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service, Robins says the diverse range of subjects and specialties encountered at each placement has allowed him to see new specimens and establish his own style.
“Having new rotations is beneficial because each centre generally does things a little differently in the grossing room and has their own specialty. For instance, Mount Sinai in Toronto has large Osteopathic, Perinatal and Otolaryngology Departments, so the specimens you see there will obviously be different than the ones you will encounter at SickKids, which are from children,” he said.
Looking forward to his next rotation at the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service, Robins says he will be completing forensic autopsies at this centre.
“It’s a big centre and in a new state-of-the-art building, so it’s really exciting,” he said. “You get a lot of exposure doing autopsies and have the opportunity to learn about the legal framework associated with the pathologists’ assistant role.”
Beyond graduation, Robins says he would like to work at a centre like the Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, as it is a regional cancer centre and has a variety of specimens to examine.
“Though I still find smaller centres like community hospitals interesting, larger centres have more diverse specimens to evaluate,” he said. “It’s nice to have variety in your work.”
Offering advice for prospective students looking to apply for the MClSc-Pathologists’ Assistant graduate program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Robins says they should do their research about the program and really understand what the profession entails.
“The number one thing prospective students should understand is what the profession is about…normal pathologists’ assistant duties like grossing can make some people feel uncomfortable or woozy,” he said. “The best way to assist you in your decision-making is to take classes that relate to the profession, job shadow a pathologists’ assistant, or if you’re able to, observe an autopsy. Completing these things will help you make an informed decision about whether or not you would be interested in being a pathologists’ assistant.”