Hematology, a branch of internal medicine, focuses on all things blood related, from studying the physiology of blood to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of blood disorders. It often takes more than 10 years to complete the educational requirements needed to become a hematologist, including medical school, postgraduate training, board certification and specialized study in the field of hematology. Hematologists can open their own private practices, join a larger practice, work with other doctors or work in hospitals, laboratories and other health care facilities.
A Shot in the Arm
Most patients find a hematologist through a referral from their family doctor, when symptoms and general diagnostic tests indicate an underlying issue with the blood. The hematologist meets with a patient, performs a basic examination and asks several questions about symptoms, behavior, diet and any other information that will help diagnose the problem. She may also collect blood samples to test red and white blood cell counts and clotting ability and to look for any abnormalities that indicate the presence of a blood-related disease, such as anemia, hemophilia or any type of hematological cancer. If the symptoms and initial blood work indicate more serious problems, she'll also schedule other tests that may include bone marrow or lymph node biopsies.
Evaluation is the next phase of treatment. The hematologist studies the patient’s medical history, provided by the family doctor, and performs a battery of tests on the collected blood samples to determine the need for further testing and to form an initial diagnosis. In the laboratory, the hematologist uses microscopes, centrifuges, hemocytometers, manual or automated liquid dispensing systems and other laboratory equipment to analyze blood and biopsy samples.
Mapping It Out
Once she's made a diagnosis, the hematologist creates a treatment plan, working closely with the patient, family doctor and any other necessary specialists or surgeons. The type of treatment prescribed depends on the diagnosis. In some cases, a change in diet or drug therapy can eliminate the problem. In more severe cases, transfusions, bone marrow transplants, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other extensive procedures are necessary to treat acute and chronic blood disorders, such as leukemia, multiple myeloma and venous thrombosis. The hematologist meets regularly with the patient to explain the diagnosis, recommend treatment options, discuss procedure, answer questions and help guide the patient through the treatment process.
For hematologists, education and training never go out of style. They must regularly complete continuing education and licensure requirements, which vary by state. Hematologists regularly take part in seminars and workshops and participate in focused training programs to learn about new hematology-related developments, techniques and equipment.
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