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Will Digital Pathology Replace Pathologists?

Bethany Williams was the world’s first Leadership and Management Fellow in Digital Pathology and is now a PhD Fellow at Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust and the University of Leeds. We caught up with her at the 4th Digital Pathology Congress where she spoke to us about the future of digital pathology and reflected on her greatest career achievements.

A typical day for me…

My official job title was originally Leadership and Management Fellow in Digital Pathology which was the world’s first. The role has since extended and I am now a Digital Pathology PhD fellow, but my work has a lot of different strands to it:

  • I oversee certain aspects of our big digital pathology deployment. Leeds Teaching Hospital is going to try and go 100 percent digital for primary diagnosis next year, so we are on our way to an incremental lead up to that.
  • I also plan projects to help pathologists’ workflow. When I first started out, I was planning a pilot project where we digitised our breast reporting workflows. This is now successfully validated and all our breast pathologists do 100% digital reporting for the breast. I’m building on from that, and we are rolling out our validation protocol and our training to all the different speciality groups at Leeds and a few other projects.
  • I organise workshops at Leeds University. Last year we ran three digital pathology workshops where we welcomed people from across the world to come to Leeds for a day. We showed them our digital setup and our laboratory and they visited our digital pathologists. We did some education work with them on case reduction in digital pathology and how to write a business case.
  • Another part of my work is to train pathologists to use our digital system. I guide them through our validation process and innovative training validation protocol where we can familiarise them with a digital system and get them used to make a digital diagnosis.
Does digital pathology pose a threat to pathologist’s jobs?

A lot of my work involves knocking on doors for all pathologists, trying to assuage some of the concerns and the fears of some of our pathologists that are a little more sceptical and uncertain about digital pathology and how it’s going to affect their career and how it’s going to affect the profession.

It is often in the back of people’s minds that digital pathology will replace pathologists. We have a lot of people who just sit very quietly and when we’re talking about our plans and what’s happening next. It is so important to draw out from them exactly what it is that is concerning them. Most of the time, we can reassure them. I can state for the record that we would still have pathologists 10 years’ time. We will not be replacing our pathologists with an algorithm, certainly not soon!

My most significant career achievement…

A huge achievement for me was when I got the role as the world’s first Leadership in Management Fellow in Digital Pathology. To suddenly have the opportunity to work in a really innovative field and an emerging strand of healthcare is exciting. It is something that’s really going to fundamentally affect the way every pathologist is going to be working for the next 10, 20, 30 years.

I love that I get to present our validation protocol, send our scientific papers on an international platform, and engage with people who are on different stages in their deployment journey.

Being a woman in science…

I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been extremely well supported both in Leeds Teaching Hospitals and NHS Trust and the University of Leeds.

What I would say is I am a mother and I do work less than fulltime, so one of the important things for me that’s really helped me is having a supportive work environment and surrounding myself with colleagues who really understand the need for flexibility in allowing women to combine their careers and childcare. It is important to be encouraged of that work-life balance that keeps everything ticking along happily.

Bethany Williams


Bethany Williams is the Leadership and Management Fellow in Digital Pathology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS and the University of Leeds.


If you enjoyed this post, why not join us at the Digital Pathology & AI Congress: USA in June. Read the agenda or register now. 

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