Policies for Pathologists' Assistant students

Here you will find policies and guidelines most relevant and specific to students in the Pathologists’ Assistant Field of the MHSc in Laboratory Medicine.

You can find additional information on the School of Graduate Studies’ Policies and Guidelines.

Good Standing 

In general, you must obtain a final grade of B-/70% or higher in each course. Please refer to the course syllabuses regarding course-specific criteria for successful completion.

If you fail a course, you will be offered remediation in the form of additional readings and assignments by the Course Coordinator. If you fail two courses or the offered remediation, you will be required to repeat the year.

You must also comply with all Student Roles and Responsibilities.

Grievances and Appeals 

For issues related to academic or interpersonal matters, you must first attempt to resolve the issue with the course coordinator(s) in question. Should the matter not be resolved with the course coordinator(s), and you wish to pursue the matter, you must discuss the issue with the Program Director, Field Director and/or Clinical/Education Coordinator. Whenever possible, such communication should occur in-person, rather than by email/text.

Should such discussions fail to resolve academic matters, you may make a formal appeal in writing to the LMP Graduate Department Academic Appeals Committee through the LMP graduate office. You can find out more about the formal appeal process under the School of Graduate Study’s Academic Appeal Policy.

Attendance and Absentee Guidelines

Lecture courses

Please follow guidelines as listed in each course syllabus. If the length of absences extends beyond what is permitted in the course syllabus, you need to discuss with the Course Coordinator and Field Director.

You are not allotted any vacation days.

Practicum courses

The practicum training component is intensive and you are expected to demonstrate high levels of academic integrity and professionalism. Regular attendance and punctuality are important professional commitments as they are essential to maintaining high-quality learning experience and professional development. It is important that you understand the practicum aids in establishing professional relationships for career development.

It is mandatory to attend all days in your clinical site rotations. You are also expected to be present at all group teaching sessions such as boot camp, academic half-day didactic sessions, and gross specimen review sessions. Maintaining regular attendance is essential to build ongoing interactions with Site Lead PAs, Clinical Liaisons and their delegates. This is reflected in part of the Overall Performance Evaluation, which accounts for 40% of the final grade in each practicum course.

Absences without appropriate notification, as well as lateness and leaving early, may be considered unprofessional behavior.

You may need to be absent due to compelling personal reasons. You are responsible for notifying instructors regarding absences in a timely manner. If absences are affecting your success in the program, you need to have an immediate discussion with the Clinical Liaison and Site Lead PA.

You can observe all statutory holidays that are applicable to the clinical site during the rotation.

You are not allotted any vacation days.

Absence due to illness, medical or unforeseen/compassionate circumstances

  • You are responsible to inform both the Course Coordinator and Site Lead PA regarding any absence as soon as possible via email.
  • Provide daily updates if your absence is greater than one day.
  • Complete an online Absentee Form as soon as possible - found on the Pathologists’ Assistant Student Portal on Quercus.
  • You require a doctor’s note if your absences are more than two days due to the same illness (cumulative absence - consecutive or random). This must be submitted to the Course Coordinator and Field Director within seven days of return to clinical duties.
  • You are responsible for any missed material.

Absence due to suspected infectious illness

  • Follow procedures as outlined above.
  • Course Coordinators and Site Lead PAs are advised to follow their own institution’s Occupational Health regulations and guide you through required steps to facilitate your return to clinical duties.
  • You are responsible for any missed material.

Anticipated absence due to non-medical, non-urgent circumstances

  • We encourage you to minimize taking non-urgent anticipated leaves.
  • Provide written notice (by email) to Course the Coordinator and Field Director/Education Coordinator ideally 30 days prior to the expected date of absence.
  • Complete an online Absentee Form as soon as possible - found on the Pathologists’ Assistant Student Portal on Quercus.
  • You are responsible for any missed material.

Missed evaluations due to absence

  • If you think you will miss an evaluation, you must contact the course coordinator and site lead PA at least one week in advance. Appropriate supporting documentation for the planned absence is at the discretion of the course coordinator and must be submitted prior to the planned absence.
  • If you miss an evaluation for an unanticipated but legitimate reason entirely beyond your control, you must notify the course coordinator and site lead PA in writing within two days of the original test date and submit the appropriate supporting documentation. Beyond two days, you will receive a mark of “0” on the assessment. Please follow the procedures for “Absence due to illness, medical or unforeseen/compassionate circumstances” and “Absentee due to suspected infectious illness” above.
  • We cannot guarantee you will get a make-up test. This is entirely dependent on the validity of the reason for missing the original test. A missed make-up test will result in a grade of “0” on that test. No second make-up test will be offered.

Extended absence

If the cumulative time away reaches eight working days for one practicum course, there will be a formal review by the LMP Professional Graduate Education Committee and may result in the decision that the course is “not evaluable”. This may result in failure of the course or a probationary period of a specified length and scope.

Leave of Absence Policy

You should refer to the University of Toronto’s Leave of Absence Policy if you are seeking a leave of absence (serious health or personal problems or parental leave).

Each request will be handled on an individual basis by the Program Director, Field Director, Clinical/Education Coordinator and Graduate Coordinator to determine the best approach to support you.

Safety Policy

Knowledge, awareness and compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the policies and procedures specific for working in the Anatomic Pathology laboratory environment is necessary in order to protect the individual and colleagues and prevent incidents that could put the organization or others at risk. 

As a Pathologists’ Assistant student, you will be exposed to biohazards, toxic chemicals, sharps and potential slip hazards when working in the grossing room, when preparing frozen sections and in the autopsy suite.

In addition to following the safety guidelines below, you are also required to complete any safety training as mandated by the clinical rotation site.

General guidelines

  • You must wear your identification badges at all times. Lab areas are restricted to authorized personnel only.
  • Know the location of the Lab Safety Manual and the number to call in the event of an emergency.
  • Report incident/injury to your supervising PA, site lead PA and the Occupational Health Department immediately and complete an Employee Incident Report. Follow the institution’s guidelines and supervising staff’s instructions regarding treatment of the incident/injury. The University must also be notified immediately through the LMP graduate office.
  • Know the hazardous properties of materials and agents that you will work with, the prescribed safe handling and storage procedures as per the Material Safety Data Sheets and WHMIS labels.
  • Know the location of fire exits and fire-fighting equipment. Evacuation plans are posted near exit doors. Know what to do in case of a fire.
  • Know the location of eye-wash stations and safety showers and how to operate them.
  • Handle all fresh tissue as biohazardous and potentially contaminated with infectious agents e.g. TB, HIV, CJD, etc. following routine practices.
  • Dispose of all sharps immediately after use, utilizing puncture-resistant sharps containers.
  • Create barrier protection of skin and mucous membranes by utilizing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses, aprons, gowns and gloves. 
  • Prevent slips or falls by wearing appropriate footwear (fully enclosed toes, sides and heels, flat and non-slip soles) and by cleaning up spills immediately after they occur.
  • Dispose of waste materials in appropriately labeled waste containers and use disinfectants appropriately.
  • Street clothes are not appropriate attire when working in any lab area.
  • Remove rings, bracelets or wrist watches that could potentially puncture gloves.
  • Tie back long hair and do not wear long necklaces, scarves or ties.
  • Do not use personal electronic devices in the lab or place them on potentially contaminated surfaces.
  • Avoid touching clean, communal surfaces with contaminated gloves outside of your workspace, such as phones, keyboards, door knobs and paper documents/requisitions.
  • Remove personal protective equipment before leaving the lab area.
  • Wash hands thoroughly in the designated handwashing sink before leaving the lab area.
  • No food or drinks are allowed in any lab area.
  • All lab areas are to be considered scent-free.
  • Check the ergonomic positioning of tools, monitors, keyboards and chairs to minimize fatigue.

Grossing

Potential exposure in Grossing

  • Fresh tissue
  • Chemical fixatives – 10% neutral buffered formalin
  • Scalpel and dissection blades, needles
  • Staples, localization wires
  • Radioactive localization seed

Safe practices for Grossing

  • Follow the General guidelines listed above
  • Wear appropriate PPE supplied by the department such as plastic apron, lab coat or protective gown, and safety glasses if applicable. Forearm covers must be worn with short sleeves. Follow the rules of PPE of the institution.
  • Wear surgical gloves (nitrile is recommended for both biological and chemical hazards). The cuff of the glove must be pulled over the gown or arm protectors.
  • Handle fixed tissue in a gross bench or biosafety cabinet with external exhaust. If a biosafety cabinet is used, the face opening of the hood and the placement of the sash is set at a specific height to ensure an adequate exhaust flow rate that will protect the user. If the sash height is not maintained, an alarm will sound indicating the flow is not adequate.
  • Staples or wires may be present in tissue and should be handled with care to prevent puncture to gloves and potential exposure to infectious agents. Dispose of the staples and wires in the sharps container.
  • Radioactive localization seeds may be present in tissue (e.g. breast lumpectomy, prostatectomy). These must be promptly retrieved by trained pathologists’ assistants and disposed of in accordance to the hospital site’s standard operating procedures.

Frozen sectioning of fresh tissue

Potential exposure of frozen sectioning of fresh tissue

  • Fresh tissue
  • Chemical fixatives – 10% buffered formalin
  • Xylene/toluene during slide staining
  • Glass slides, scalpels, microtome blades, dissecting knives
  • Staples, localization wires

Safe practices for frozen sectioning of fresh tissue

  • Follow the General guidelines listed above.
  • Handle fresh tissue in a fume hood/ventilated gross bench if available, or protect eyes and mucous membranes with safety eye goggles (or a full face shield) and a N95 mask.
  • Place fresh tissue on a cutting board on disposable toweling. Change toweling between specimens.
  • Wipe cutting board with antibacterial/antiviral agent such as Virox.
  • Don appropriate PPE supplied by the department such as plastic apron, lab coat or protective gown, and safety glasses if applicable. Forearm covers must be worn with short sleeves. Follow the rules of PPE of the institution. Wear surgical gloves (nitrile is recommended for both biological and chemical hazards). The cuff of the glove must be pulled over the lab coat, gown or arm protectors.
  • All PPE must be removed, disposed of in the appropriate receptacle before leaving the lab.
  • If requisitions are soiled by blood or body fluids, spray with antibacterial/antiviral agent, let dry under a fume hood, photocopy and place original in plastic sleeve.
  • Take care when attaching and removing scalpel or dissecting blades. All blades must be removed at the end of each session and never left unattended.
  • Xylene/toluene are flammable chemicals used during the staining of tissue sections on glass slides.

Autopsy (Postmortem examination)

Potential exposure in autopsies

  • Fresh tissue and body fluids
  • Chemical fixatives – 10% neutral buffered formalin
  • Scalpel, dissection blades and power saws e.g. Stryker saw

Safe practices in autopsies

  • Follow the General guidelines listed above.
  • Follow guidelines above for handling of fresh and fixed tissue as outlined above in Grossing and Frozen sectioning of fresh tissue.
  • Autopsy suites are maintained under negative pressure and doors should remain closed during the post-mortem examination.
  • A second person should be present in the autopsy suite during the opening and dissection of organs from the body.
  • Wear hospital-supplied scrubs with an additional protective layer of an impermeable gown and apron.
  • Wear tall rubber boots, if applicable, during the post-mortem examination due to the potential for slip hazard.
  • Wear a double layer of surgical gloves (nitrile is recommended for both biological and chemical hazards). The cuff of the gloves must be pulled over the outer gown.
  • Wear full face shields and N95 mask to protect eyes and mucous membranes.
  • Wear cut-resistant gloves (e.g. Kevlar) under the surgical gloves when dissecting organs from the body and using power saws e.g. Stryker saws.
  • All PPE must be removed, disposed of in the appropriate receptacle before leaving the autopsy suite.

Tissue grossing, frozen sectioning of fresh tissue and autopsy during pregnancy

Existing studies of the effects of formalin, other organic solvents and materials with low-dose radiation routinely encountered in a pathology lab on fetal development and pregnancy outcomes are inconclusive.

If you are pregnant or are contemplating immediate pregnancy, discuss this issue with your physician. Discuss immediately with the Field Director and Education Coordinator to cover potential modifications to these tasks and to your curriculum during pregnancy, although we will make every effort to ensure your competency in these tasks.

Reporting injury sustained during a clinical rotation

If you are injured during a clinical rotation, the course coordinator/site lead pathologists’ assistant must complete the University of Toronto’s injury report form as soon as possible.

You should also follow the injury reporting procedure as per the Occupational and Health Safety guidelines of the clinical rotation site.

Patient Privacy and Confidentiality 

During Practicum rotations and your Capstone research project, you will have access to patients’ personal health information (PHI) and other sensitive information.

It is your responsibility to respect the privacy and dignity of patients. You should only collect, use and disclose personal health information and other sensitive information as required by the duties of your position and in accordance with the laws of Ontario and Canada.

You should maintain the secrecy of all User ID(s) and Password(s) that enable your access to hospital and research institution’s networks and applications. You are responsible for all access and/or actions carried out under them.

You must immediately report all privacy breaches to your immediate supervisor and to the institution’s Privacy Office.

Should any of these conditions be breached, you may be subject to corrective action from the hospital or research institution, be reported to the University of Toronto and their professional bodies, and be subject to prosecution by provincial authorities.

Vaccination Policy and other onboarding requirements

You must follow any vaccination policy and other onboarding requirements set by the University of Toronto and Practicum site hospitals. Failure to comply with such policy could result in ineligibility to participate in course activities and in course failure. We recommend you start this process at least one month prior to the start of Bootcamp (i.e. early April) as this process may take some time to complete. You are responsible for all associated fees.

1. Vaccination policy

You must provide proof of vaccination or evidence of immunity from your family physician or the University of Toronto’s Student Health Services against the following:

  • Measle/ Mumps/ Rubella
  • Varicella
  • Hepatitis B
  • Tetanus/ Diphtheria/ Pertussis

You also need to have negative Tuberculin Skin Testing or a negative chest x-ray (if the skin test is positive).

Other vaccines, such as those against influenza and Coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19) may also be required. See our current policy for COVID-19.

2. N95 mask fit test

N95 mask fit test is provided free of charge through the University of Toronto’s Environmental Health and Safety. See the instructions on how to complete this test.

3. Police background check

All students require a Vulnerable Sector Screening (level 3).

For Toronto residents (with postal code starting with “M”), go to Toronto Police Service to complete the screening. You are required to provide your admissions letter as proof.

For residents outside of Toronto, please apply through the police service in your area.

Service Work Policy

During the clinical practicums, you work under the direct supervision of a staff pathologists’ assistant or pathologist who is ultimately responsible for your work.

Your workload is chosen based on educational value ahead of the operational needs of the laboratory. While your work may ultimately contribute to the operational needs of the laboratory, you are not substitutes for regular staff and are not responsible for maintaining essential laboratory operations.

You are expected to attend your clinical rotations Mondays to Thursdays, 8 am to 4 pm or 7.5 hours (starting and end times may vary and are up to the discretion of the course coordinator). 

You have protected time on Fridays for Academic Half Day Lectures and to work on your Capstone project.

Discrimination and Harassment

The University of Toronto has extensive policies on prohibited discrimination, discriminatory harassment, human rights, freedom of speech, equity, diversity, and excellence. The University aspires to achieve an environment free of prohibited discrimination and harassment and to ensure respect for the core values of freedom of speech, academic freedom and freedom of research. 

Contact the program administration should you face issues related to discrimination and harassment.

Policy and procedure when practicum rotation placement cannot be guaranteed

If you cannot continue your training at an affiliated site (eg: clinical site cancels their agreement with our program and no longer trains students), the program will make appropriate arrangements for you to complete the practicum objectives and competencies. This may require you to complete the training at another affiliated, accredited site, at the discretion of the Pathologists’ Assistant Curriculum Advisory Committees.