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Pathway To Pathology

by Alex Avelino

Pathology is the study of diseases. Veterinary pathology is the study of disease in animals, many times focusing on zoonotic diseases, which are diseases transmitted from animals to humans.

Rabies, West Nile, Ebola, anthrax and swine flu are examples of zoonotic diseases.

Veterinary pathology is one of the many opportunities for students interested in the field of veterinary medicine, research, teaching and science. There are two main fields of pathology (clinical and anatomical), with many branches (e.g. surgical, renal, neurological, hematology, microbiology, etc). Clinical pathology focuses on what can be seen under a microscope when examining materials like blood or urine, and anatomic pathology looks at disease in the gross form through limbs and tissue.

I like cutting up dead things.
Farina goes over the day's cases with third year veterinary students
On this day, the necropsy lab saw an infectious guinea pig and an eight-month-old foal

Dr. Lisa Farina is a veterinary anatomic pathologist at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine (UF CVM). Farina’s path to pathology was not her original plan. When she started at UF CVM in 1995, she thought she wanted to be a zoological veterinarian. After a one-year internship and less than a year in private practice Farina realized she didn’t “enjoy things with hooves very much.” She then went on to a residency in anatomic pathology at the UF CVM, where she found her niche. She enjoys seeing students in the lab understand disease, participates in many research projects and “learns new things all the time.”

Veterinary students take a quick photo in their personal protective equipment before working with necrotic animals
Students read case notes and speculate potential causes of death.

There are many branches of pathology, but the two main branches that the UF CVM employs are clinical and anatomic. Farina describes the difference between the two as, "if you can squirt it on a microscope slide (e.g. blood), it’s clinical pathology. If you can hold it in your hand (e.g. a limb), it’s anatomic pathology."

Sometimes there aren’t good tests for things unless they’re dead, like rabies or tuberculosis in elephants

As a woman in the STREAM field (science, technology, research, engineering, arts, math), often overpopulated with men, Farina experiences a different population in veterinary medicine. “By the time I became a veterinarian, the generation had flipped. My class was a third men.” Veterinary medicine is currently dominated by women and Farina’s parents encouraged her do whatever she wanted, even if that was “cutting up dead things.”

Farina, featured on the CNN breaking news page
I never had the mentality that girls could be bad at anything.
A self-described, "pop culture geek," Farina's office is split with academic tools and collectibles

After trying private practice, Farina knew she would rather work with other veterinarians and veterinary students, rather than clients. Often, students who are interested in becoming veterinarians think they will work with animals much more than people, but in private practice this is not the case.

For all students, exploring opportunities in a science field is critical to find the space that is right for each one’s personality and goals. The starting path is not always the final product.

To find out more about veterinary medicine and anatomic pathology, you can check out the American College of Veterinary Pathologists home page!

Alex Avelino is the pre-vet advisor at UF CVM and a master's student in UF's College of Journalism.

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