Veterinary Pathology Professor Frightens and Enlightens Students

Writing today’s article about how oncology (cancer) patients’ cases are worked up I was reminded of a really funny story that happened when I was a second-year student at Auburn University’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

On our first day of pathology class our professor, Dr. Aaron Groth came into the Monday afternoon classroom, dimmed the lights, lowered the projector screen and said, “Take out a sheet of paper, put your name at the top and number the left side 1 through 10.”

We did as we were told, but we were terrified. There had been no warning, no assignment to read the first chapter of our pathology text, no stories from upperclassmen.

Dr. Groth pushed a button and the first slide fell into place in the projector, illuminating a photo of a mass of some kind. “Next to number one, write your diagnosis.”

The exercise continued through ten slides over a five-minute time period, at which time Dr. Groth said, “Fold your papers, pass them to the left, then you’re dismissed until Wednesday. I’ll have your test scores then.”

We were further terrified. It would be forty eight hours before we would know our fates from this nightmare.

Wednesday at 1:00 PM sharp Dr. Groth passed out the graded papers and simultaneously announced the range of scores. “The best score was four right out of ten, 40%. That’s an F. There were a few 30s, some 20s, a lot of 10s and a lot of 0s. They are all Fs.

“I gave you this test to illustrate a point. So that you will relax and hear what I’m about to say next I’ll tell you this doesn’t count against your semester grade. Even the best score in the class was an F. After I’ve taught you all I can in a year about pathology, you still won’t be able to score much better by looking at a growth with the naked eye. You need a biopsy to make a definitive diagnosis. Never forget that.”

I haven’t.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.

PS: Dr. Aaron Groth passed away October 30, 2016, at the age of 89. The honors and accolades in his obituary were extensive.

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  1. One of my sister’s 10 yr. old cats has a large lump near base of tail. The veterinarian biopsied it and 10 min. later concluded cancer and tail removal. Can it be diagnosed that quickly and easily?

    • If he’s that good it can! You always have the right to a second opinion if you are uncomfortable with the diagnosis. Please write back and let us know what you decide. Best wishes, Dr. Randolph.

  2. Hi Dr. Randolph, my cat has these rather large growths growing down her spine, protruding outward and they grow rather fast. They seem to be a little tender, as you can see her skin crawl when petting her. It has been quite difficult getting her to the veterinarian, as she has all her claws and bites when I try to capture her. She is too smart to trick into crawling into a carrier. But I am very curious as to what these growths are. I know I have to get her to the doctor but like I said it is rather difficult. Have you seen or heard of these before? Thank you for your help…Lisa

    • Lisa, the post above explains why we can’t answer the question of what the growth are without biopsy. Your kitty is the perfect patient for a housecall/mobile practice. The bottom line is, she needs an examination and specific diagnosis. And, the sooner it’s done. the better the prognosis.

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