Department Spotlight: Pathology

By: Alana Ridge

February 29, 2024

The Pathology team at Renown Health pose for a group photo in the pathology lab.

Celebrate Leap Day by leaping into the world of Pathology at Renown Health!

Think of discovering a diagnosis like solving a mystery: the condition is the suspect, the nurses are the frontline police force and the doctors are the lieutenants or captains finalizing the results of the case. You may notice that one crucial role is missing on this list – the detectives. In the diverse network of healthcare, the detectives are a significant part of each patient’s mystery-solving care team and represent many roles across our health system. When it comes to figuring out the elaborate details of a growth, disease, organ abnormality or cause of death, one team of detectives, quite literally, goes as deep as possible. Those detectives are the team members within Renown Pathology. For each specialized field within medicine or surgery, the Pathology department is here to play a crucial role in accurate diagnoses. With each slide examined and each test meticulously conducted in their bright laboratories, these dedicated professionals shape a path towards wellness and recovery. 

Meet Your Anatomy Experts 

Whether you have a chronic disease that needs consistent testing, a high-risk birth that requires placenta testing, a suspected cancerous tumor that needs a biopsy or a gall stone that must be removed (or anything in between), Renown’s Pathology team steps in to provide biological answers to your body’s questions. This department offers the most comprehensive in-house diagnostic testing in the region, from routine histology to full pathology. 

As the busiest pathology department in northern Nevada, this team boasts the fastest turnaround times from respected experts, including: 

  • Pathologists
  • Pathology Assistants
  • Histotechnicians
  • Histotechnologists
  • Clinical Lab Assistants

Let’s break down the complex nature of these team members' jobs by walking through their everyday responsibilities at work! 


Pathologists are medical doctors who specialize in the study and diagnosis of disease. With every slide they scrutinize and every sample they analyze, pathologists unravel the mysteries of disease with precision and compassion. Their responsibilities include interpreting laboratory tests, analyzing tissue and fluid samples (obtained from a variety of different sources, including biopsies and surgeries), staging cancer diagnoses and providing diagnostic insights that guide treatment decisions. 

“Our job is to help the patients and their doctors figure out what’s wrong,” said Dr. Christie Elliott, Pathologist and Medical Director of the Clinical Laboratory at Renown Regional Medical Center. “As the bulk of our cases deal with cancer, almost every day we start with a tumor board alongside fellow surgeons, oncologists, radiologists and geneticists. From there, we order extra studies, run through our cases to make diagnoses, review slides and ensure all information goes into the charts, which is especially important as 70% of data in medical charts is from the lab. A patient’s history is everything.” 

Pathology Assistants

With the steadiest of hands, pathology assistants, also known as PAs (not to be confused with physician assistants), guide the diagnostic journey from patient specimen to diagnosis. They can typically be found processing surgical and biopsy specimens (includes accessioning, gross examination, description, and sampling for microscopic analysis), preparing tissue samples for microscopic evaluation, helping the pathologist determine a cause of death for autopsies by conducting organ dissections and maintaining detailed records of all diagnostic findings. 

“As a PA, I still impact patient care without being directly patient-facing,” said Andrew Whitner, Pathology Assistant. “I handle 300-350 small tissue blocks a day. During dissections, I identify landmarks, document what I see and turn those landmarks into slides, looking for things that don’t look normal.” 

“Our job is 90% all about gross specimens, and we also do eviscerations for autopsies,” added Leslieann Haffner, Pathology Assistant. “We are trained on what normal looks like; our goal is to find the abnormal.” 


Histotechnicians work behind the scenes to help transform ordinary tissue into extraordinary windows of insight, revealing the inner workings of the human body. As vital members of the Pathology team, histotechnicians embed tissue specimens in paraffin wax blocks (a process that preserves the tissue's structure for examination), cut thin sections of tissue from the paraffin blocks using a microtome, mount tissue onto glass slides and stain the tissue slides using histological stains to highlight structures or cells. 

“With all the patient specimens we work with, we get to see a lot of organs and learn what is causing the abnormalities,” said Reiny Hitchcock, Histotechnician. “I enjoy the opportunities to expand my knowledge, especially while working alongside the doctors.” 

“Our job can change by the week,” added Jessica Fahrion, Histotechnician. “One week I’ll be in the grossing room, and the next week I might be training in cytology."


In a world where every slide holds the key to a patient's future, histotechnologists are the champions of progress. One career ladder step above histotechnicians, these team members often have a broader scope of responsibilities, including more complex laboratory procedures, developing and validating new techniques, managing laboratory operations, interpreting results and troubleshooting technical issues. You can count on histotechnologists for validating antibodies and handling orders from pathologists, oncologists, emergency physicians and more. 

“My day always involves looking into cases, reading reports, getting orders together and working with pathologists to help them with their diagnoses; I also work a lot with immunohistochemistry, helping out with routine slides,” said Charles Koeritz, Histotechnologist. “I especially enjoy doing validations, which help maintain the integrity of lab testing and our diagnostic processes.”

Clinical Lab Assistants

Our pathology clinical lab assistants are the masters at “filling in the blanks,” assisting in whatever area needs it most, especially in cytology and the grossing room. They are essential aspects of the Pathology team, collecting and storing specimens for further testing, assisting in managing test results, gathering data, managing supply inventory and more. 

“As a Clinical Lab Assistant, I can be scheduled anywhere, from tissue cassetting to grossing,” said Ellie Somers, Clinical Lab Assistant. “Working in cytology is one of my favorite parts of my job. It’s very rewarding to work with the doctors to uncover what treatments will help each patient. We do cytology very well here.”

The Bottom Line

Even though the Pathology department doesn’t always experience a lot of patient face-to-face time, they interact with patients in a different way – by uncovering the story that is the inner workings of the human body, one slide and one sample at a time. 

“It’s important to remember that the slide IS a patient,” said Dr. Elliott. “We are constantly learning from every case so we can continue to provide the best patient care possible.” 

Take a Photo Tour of the Pathology Lab!

The Path to Pathology

Dissecting human tissues and handling bodily fluids may not sound like a trip to Disneyland to the general public, but the true reality of the work in the pathology lab is a lot more intriguing than many may believe, especially with the technology at their fingertips. 

“We are delivering a product that will tell people either the best or worst news about their health; they shouldn’t have to wait long for that, and our goal is to render the most accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible,” said Kyle Boschult, Supervisor of Clinical Laboratory. “We have the equipment to do in-depth tissue analysis, small diagnostic tests that can be done in a rapid processer.” 

“Driving our digital pathology efforts is a huge focus of mine,” added Justin Lloyd, Director of Laboratory Services. “Eventually, we’re going to replace microscopes with ultra high-resolution scanners and artificial intelligence. We are looking for a generous donor to help make this a reality. 

When it comes to our Pathology team members, the possibilities of getting up-close-and-personal with the human body and solving the mysteries of disease with advanced technology seemed like their ideal careers – and each of them have a unique story to tell as to how they made this realization. 

For some, pathology was always an interest, even from a young age. 

“My mom was a surgical nurse, so I was always interested in the medical field,” said Leslieann Haffner. “In college, I got to experience a ‘body farm’ and test bones after decomposition. That’s when I knew I wanted to be involved in anatomy for my career.” 

“Honestly, I’ve always had a morbid curiosity about illness, and this is a great way for me to impact patient care,” added Andrew Whitner. 

For others, a career at the bedside sparked an interest in what medically happens outside of face-to-face patient contact. 

“I used to do direct patient care, and while I’m not patient-facing, I am still helping care for them,” said Emily Powers, Clinical Lab Assistant. “Everything that I’ve touched gives me the same fulfillment as I did before, plus I’m interacting with doctors in the same way as I did in my previous job.” 

With our pathologists, many of them entered medical school with a completely different career path in mind. Their experiences during their schooling opened their eyes up to the world of pathology. 

“I originally wanted to be an OB/GYN; I took an EMT class before medical school, and one day, a coroner came and spoke to us about the work he does – I instantly thought, ‘how cool is that?’” said Dr. Elliott. “I did a weekend rotation at the medical examiner’s office, which helped solidify my decision to go into this field. Medical school doesn’t always go into detail as to what pathology really is, so I took a leap of faith, and I’m so glad I did.” 

Regardless of which road the team members took to end up working in Renown Pathology, one fact remains the same – they are incredibly grateful.

“We are so fortunate to have the team that we do,” said Kyle Boschult. 

Staying Positive

Dealing with death and disease can be naturally saddening, and the Pathology department knows this fact all too well. These team members know that remaining positive and focused on the end result – the resolution of the mystery – is going to benefit their patients even more. 

“The team deals with a lot of cancer diagnoses day in and day out, so it is important to try and stay positive,” said Kyle Boschult. 

Looking at the bright side can require a higher emotional IQ; however, in the medical field, there remains a prevailing perception that Pathology healthcare workers are reserved and reclusive. Our Pathology department proves this stereotype wrong. 

"There is a common stereotype that pathologists and pathology staff are antisocial, and that is the reason why they chose a career in pathology,” said Dr. Elliott.  "This couldn’t be further from the truth about the Renown Pathology team. We have a dedicated team that not only works well with one another but also with care team members across the health system.”

Having both an emotional and a scientific mindset, in addition to the wealth of sophisticated technology and medical equipment, helps this team keep up with their case capacity and standards of excellence. 

“We are an incredibly high throughput lab,” said Kyle Boschult. “We focus on fast turnaround times without sacrificing quality. And we’re expanding, too. Part of our office space is going to be built out into more lab space to increase our volume.” 

Renown Pathology fun fact: This team’s hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining protocol, one of the most important processes in helping doctors deliver accurate diagnoses, consistently earns top marks. 

So, why come to Renown to hone their craft? For these team members, the answer is easy: the opportunities for knowledge and clinical experience, not to mention an enthusiastic and supportive organizational culture. 

“Working at Renown is great, because we get to experience pretty much everything, especially biopsies and resections,” said Leslieann Haffner. “We see so much that wouldn’t see otherwise.” 

“I came here because Renown has such a positive work environment,” added Rainy Hitchcock. "I love how many opportunities there are to train and expand my knowledge.” 

In this department, amidst the delicate dance of cells and the meticulous examination of tissue samples, lies the foundation for exceptional patient care. These team members enjoy a shared dedication to providing nothing less than the best. 

"If you’re working with good, dedicated people – like we are – you're going to love your job,” said Dr. Elliott. “This is where all the great care happens. It’s the place I want my family to go when they need the best of the best.” 

Our Pathology team strives to be cutting-edge because, according to these employees, their patients deserve the best. As the field evolves, so will they. Remember, they don’t treat cases; they treat you.

“We care, even though you don’t see us,” closes Leslieann Haffner. 
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