The Division of Chemical Pathology is part of the Department of Pathology in the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of Cape Town

Chemical Pathology (also known as Clinical Biochemistry/Clinical Chemistry) is the study of the biochemical basis of disease, and the application of biochemical and molecular techniques in diagnosis. An allied subspecialty of Chemical Pathology is Metabolic Medicine which deals with metabolic disease in all its manifestations. The Division is involved in teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and provides diagnostic laboratory services for Groote Schuur Hospital. It has several internationally recognized research groups.



How to train in Chemical Pathology?

After completing a primary degree in medicine (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB)), internship and community service training a prospective trainee can then enter an accredited training programme. 

The candidate is required to spend at least 4 years in an approved training post in the Chemical Pathology discipline (i.e. at Registrar level in an approved teaching hospital).

Qualification as a Specialist Chemical Pathologist in South Africa requires the candidate to obtain the Fellowship of the College of Pathologists of South Africa (F.C.PATH SA (Chem Path)) and to complete a minor dissertation (Masters of Medicine) at an accredited University such as UCT. When all requirements are met, the candidate can be admitted to the Specialist Register of the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA).

What is the role of Chemical Pathology
in health care?

Chemical Pathology is the branch of pathology dealing with the biochemical basis of disease and the use of biochemical tests for diagnosis and management. Doctors in the speciality have dual responsibilities. First there is the provision of a reliable analytical service, for example measuring serum electrolytes, indices of liver function, hormones, drugs and tumour markers in hundreds of patient samples every day. Many of these analyses are performed on automated analysers, usually operated by technologists, but the management of the process (and the staff), assurance of quality and provision of guidance on the selection of tests and assessment of the significance of the results (particularly with some of the less generally familiar tests) are the province of the chemical pathologist.

Secondly,  Chemical Pathologists have an important clinical role, not only advising on the management of patients with metabolic disturbances but in several countries now, they are  increasingly having direct responsibility for such patients in out-patient clinics and on the wards.

Chemical Pathology not only brings together science and medicine, it relates to all the medical specialities. Chemical Pathologists are frequently consulted about further investigation or management of patients found to have biochemical abnormalities on 'routine' testing. They frequently have to deal with investigating patients with dyslipidaemias, diabetes and hypertension, review ward patients receiving artificial nutrition, discuss the introduction of a new diagnostic test with consultant colleagues, review the quality of the laboratory's analytical service and manage research projects of trainees.

Adapted from Dr William Marshall