As a pulmonary pathologist, UTHSCT’s Dr. Tim Allen helps treat many patients who probably don’t know he exists

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

For the Doctor of the Year special section March 27, 2011 in the Longview News-Journal:

Timothy Craig Allen, MD, JD, takes care of many patients every day at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

But many probably don’t even know he exists.

Dr. Allen is a pulmonary pathologist. He diagnoses disease by examining and analyzing pieces of tissue, primarily from the lungs, but sometimes from other organs. It could be a tissue specimen taken during surgery, a biopsy, or even just cells: for example, a Pap smear.

“The pathologist is known as the doctor’s doctor. We don’t usually see patients; we take care of patients by diagnosing their diseases,” he said.

Dr. Allen researches diseases of the lung, writes scholarly articles, book chapters, and books about lung disease, and gives lectures to physicians and medical residents.

As professor of pathology and chairman of UTHSCT’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, he also oversees the laboratory’s blood bank, as well as the chemistry, hematology, and microbiology labs. Dr. Allen is responsible for maintaining the labs’ quality and making sure they follow proper standards and procedures.

A rare breed

Pulmonary pathologists are a rare breed. There are only about 100 in the world, and just five in Texas, he said. Their numbers may be small, but their work is important.

Pulmonologists – doctors who specialize in diseases that attack the lungs and the lining of the lungs – see patients and do biopsies of the lung if they suspect problems.

“But as a pulmonary pathologist, I diagnose the disease,” said Dr. Allen, who is board certified in clinical and anatomic pathology, as well as cytopathology, the study of how disease affects cells. “I work with radiologists, surgeons, and pulmonologists as a team to make sure the lung biopsy diagnosis is correct,” he said.

After graduating from medical school, Dr. Allen completed an obstetrics and gynecology internship. But he became fascinated by pathology and switched to a residency in pathology at the Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals in Houston.

Then, for six years Dr. Allen was assistant professor of pathology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

He might have stayed there, except for the health-care reform plan proposed by the Clinton administration in the 1990s. Rather than complain about it, as many physicians were doing, Dr. Allen took action.

Merging ideas from medicine and the law

He wanted to understand health-care law, so he attended the University of Chicago Law School, obtaining his law degree with honors in 1998. Dr. Allen then spent four years practicing health-care law in Houston.

“But I was a physician first, and I wasn’t succeeding in merging the ideas of medicine and law like I wanted to do,” he said. Dr. Allen returned to medicine, completing a two-year fellowship in pulmonary pathology at Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals in Houston. In 2004, he joined UTHSCT.

Now physicians from around Texas and the nation send him “tough cases” to review – slides of lung cells or tissue that they can’t decipher.

“You never know what you’re going to see under the microscope. It’s exciting but challenging, and you want to get your diagnosis right,” Dr. Allen said.

He enjoys working with UTHSCT’s biomedical researchers, many of whom are studying the lungs and the diseases that attack them.

“Our basic researchers are some of the best in the United States and the world in studying the inflammatory processes that affect the lungs and the lining of the lungs,” Dr. Allen said. Their research is important, because inflammation plays a key role in many lung diseases.

For 60 years, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler has provided excellent patient care and cutting-edge treatment, specializing in pulmonary disease, cancer, heart disease, primary care, and the disciplines that support them. UTHSCT’s annual operating budget of $125 million represents a major economic impact of over $287 million to the Northeast Texas region. In FY 2010, scientists in the Center for Biomedical Research were awarded 75 competitive grants and contracts totaling more than $14 million. As the academic medical center for Northeast Texas, its graduate medical education program – with residencies in family medicine and occupational medicine – provide doctors for many communities throughout the region and beyond.

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