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Pathologists’ assistants, an essential healthcare workforce: the experience of a surgical pathology department in Italy
  1. Mara Bortesi1,
  2. Marialisa Marchetti1,
  3. Ilaria Arpaia1,
  4. Letizia Marchi1,
  5. Marilena Ganassi1,
  6. Eleonora Zanetti1,
  7. Cristina Fontanesi1,
  8. Massimo Costantini2,
  9. Simonetta Piana1
  1. 1 Pathology Unit, Azienda USL—IRCCS di Reggio Emilia, Reggio Emilia, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
  2. 2 Scientific Directorate, Azienda USL—IRCCS di Reggio Emilia, Reggio Emilia, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
  1. Correspondence to Dr Simonetta Piana, Pathology Unit, Azienda USL - IRCCS di Reggio Emilia, Reggio Emilia, Emilia-Romagna, Italy; simonetta.piana{at}


Aims The progressive increase of both the workload and the complexity of laboratory procedures, along with shortage of staff, has made evident the need to increase the efficiency in the pathology departments. To support the pathologists, a new technical professional role, the pathologists’ assistant (PA), has been introduced.

Methods We decided to carry out a retrospective analysis on PAs’ performance. This was compared with that of junior/senior pathologists in the amount and type of surgical specimens examined, the number of lymph node retrieved in colorectal resections, the number of cases needing a second grossing procedure and the average time spent in grossing. As the COVID-19 pandemic period in fact resulted in a dramatic reduction of histological cases in our department, we divided PA activities into two periods, according to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results ‘Simple’ specimens made up the majority (92%) of the specimens examined by PAs in pre-COVID-19 period while ‘complex’ specimens, often neoplastic, represented the minor part (7%). However, ‘simple’ specimens dropped to 81% and ‘complex’ specimens rose to 18% in the COVID-19 period, when PAs had the chance to test themselves with more complicated surgical samples, under the supervision of a pathologist. Lymph node retrieval rate and average time spent in grossing are in line with literature data and confirm that PAs performance is comparable with pathologists’ one, in selected settings.

Conclusion In our experience, PA has represented a fundamental time-saving resource for the pathologists, who can devote time almost exclusively to diagnostic reporting.

  • pathology
  • surgical
  • pathology department
  • hospital
  • anatomy

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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  • Handling editor Dhirendra Govender.

  • Contributors MB, IA, LM, MM and MG collected the data. CF analysed the data. MB and SP designed the study and wrote the paper. EZ edited and made critical revisions to the paper. MC revised the paper. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.