What a Pathologist Does in a Workday

This article originally appeared in the The Washington Post's “Welcome to The Work Day” series, which charts a single day in various women's working lives. It features Sarah Bean, MD, FCAP, a pathologist at Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Bean explains how she came to be a pathologist and takes us through her typical workday.


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Name: Sarah Bean

Age: 46

Location: Durham, North Carolina

Job title: Professor of pathology at Duke University Medical Center; pathologist with expertise in women's health

My Previous Jobs

During college, I was a restaurant server, did research in a laboratory, did field research on eastern blue birds, was the manager of a dark room, and was a Starbucks barista and shift supervisor. During medical school, I was a suicide researcher, and I completed a post-sophomore year in pathology. After medical school, I went to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where I completed residency in anatomic and clinical pathology and a fellowship in cytopathology.

What Led Me to My Current Role

I always wanted a medical practice focused on caring for women. While in medical school, I thought that could be primary care or obstetrics and gynecology, but those medical fields were not a good fit for me. As a pathologist, I am a medical doctor with expertise in all aspects of laboratory medicine, and I've tailored my practice to focus on cytopathology and breast and gynecologic surgical pathology.

I love the diagnostic challenges I encounter as a pathologist. It's my job to review a patient's medical record in concert with their tissue specimens under the microscope and perform and interpret tests as needed to determine the best answer. I help patients by providing answers so they receive the best treatment.

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My workspace, including a new standing desk and bookshelf, in Durham, N.C.

How I Spend the Majority of My Workday

Most days you can find me at a microscope for several hours, assessing biopsies and other surgical specimens and creating pathology reports to care for my patients. (Behind every pathology report is a pathologist, just like me!) I also usually have one to two hours of meetings each day.

My Workday

6 AM: It is time to start the day! After getting ready for work, I take my two kids to school and then commute to work.

8:15 AM: The first 60 minutes of each day are reserved for my passion work. I use this time to eat breakfast, write papers, read, prepare for teaching, prepare for meetings, and self-reflect.

9:15 AM: Using the microscope to review glass slides and write pathology reports, I care for my patients. This week, I am teaching a pathology resident. We review our patients' slides together, discuss diagnoses, and co-write each pathology report.

12 PM: Lunch time! I love to read the news or listen to podcasts while eating. After lunch, I take a walk through the hospital to get in a few steps.

1 PM: This afternoon I have two virtual meetings. Between meetings, I finish caring for my patients. Before leaving work, I prioritize my to-do list for tomorrow morning.

4:30 PM: After commuting home, it is time to cook dinner and hang out with my kids until it is their bedtime.

9 PM: This is my favorite hour of the day! I use this time to relax—usually spent watching television or reading a book.

10 PM: Time to get ready for bed and prepare for another great day.

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Today I am enjoying teriyaki chicken with broccoli and mushrooms for lunch.