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Q&A with pathologist Dr. Cathy Streutker

Toronto, December 5, 2014

By Patricia Favre

Dr. Cathy Streutker, pathologist, Diagnostic Laboratories
Dr. Cathy Streutker, pathologist, Diagnostic Laboratories. (Photo by Yuri Markarov)

Many patients never meet their pathologists, but these doctors are critical to patient diagnosis, care and recovery. Pathologists are often referred to as the “detectives” of a health care team. Dr. Cathy Streutker is a pathologist at St. Michael’s Hospital – here’s what she has to say about her role.

Q. Can you tell us about your role as a pathologist?

In simple words, I analyze test results and biopsy specimens to make diagnoses that determine how patients are treated. As a pathologist, I often feel like I’m trying to solve a mystery by analyzing clues such as a patient’s test results and personal medical history. While I do a variety of work, I specialize in gastrointestinal pathology.

Q. What made you want to specialize in pathology?

I didn’t enter medical school thinking I would become a pathologist. I quickly learned that it’s one of the few areas of medicine where can still be more of a generalist and think about how the organs all affect each other. Also, pathology isn’t just a science – it’s an art, too. We often say you need the eye in order to pattern match and make a diagnosis. It’s an ever-changing environment and I get to see new cases every day.

Q. What is the biggest misconception about pathologists?

I often don’t like talking about what I do because many people don’t understand pathology and think that we only perform autopsies. Most of our medical practice involves making critical diagnoses of the living. However, some of us do perform autopsies to determine a cause of death, but it is a small percentage of our work. This is with the exception of forensic pathologists of course.

Q. What do you find most rewarding about pathology?

Every once in a while, pathologists have the chance to make that miracle diagnosis that really affects someone’s life. It’s generally something that no one else was expecting. It’s only happened a few times in my career – but to me this is extremely exciting and rewarding.

Q. If you could be any character from a mystery show, who would you be?

I’ll stay away from shows such as CSI because I think that perpetuates the misconceptions we discussed. I was always a big fan of the X-Files. As far as I can tell from the early years of the show, Scully seemed to be a pathologist. So if I could be anyone – it would be her.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.