Leslie Hill, Diagnostic Cytology

A day in the life

Leslie Hill, Diagnostic Cytology


We’re an interprofessional school. Students learn about how they fit in the healthcare system by working together. And they get hands-on clinical learning from Day One...well, maybe Day 20.

Making a huge difference

Leslie Hill is a self-confessed microscope geek, going back to her days of looking at spirogyra in high school. She also has a soft spot for parasites. There’s little wonder she ended up teaching diagnostic cytology.

“I love looking at cells,” she says. “I love how each one is different, each case is different—like a fingerprint. Figuring out what disease process is going on under that small glass coverslip is a great puzzle.”

A native of Dartmouth, Leslie was studying science at Dal when she discovered cytology. It wasn’t a university program at the time, so she started the diploma program at the then School of Allied Health at Victoria General Hospital while she was earning her BSc in biology.

She worked in labs in Ontario, Halifax, and Australia (where she also taught cytology at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), before starting at Dal’s School of Health Sciences in 2008. It’s been a good fit.

“My favourite course to teach is Non-Gynaecological Cytopathology (DCYT 3000),” she says. “It’s interactive and we cover so many body sites: salivary glands, urinary system, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system, thyroid, and breast. Every year students say, ‘I’m never going to get this.’ By the end of the term they say, ‘Hey, I think I got this.’ I love watching that ‘a-ha’ moment in class.”

Leslie is currently enrolled in a masters in Health Services Management at Charles Sturt University in Australia, after having studied nutrition at the Melbourne College of Natural Medicine and Bach Flower therapy through the Bach Centre in England. She’s also hoping to get Canadian certification as a nutritionist to support her sideline holistic health consulting business, specializing in food allergy.

It’s all part of Leslie’s holistic and interprofessional view of health care—that every aspect of the system can work together to focus on the individual patient.

“I love being part of a patient’s health journey, knowing I had a hand in that,” she says. “We aren’t front-line medicine, but we are so important in the healthcare system. The main goal of diagnostic cytology is to assess cellular changes to rule out malignancy. Cytologists can identify pre-malignant changes, benign tumours, nutritional deficiencies, chemotherapy changes, and radiation changes. It’s quite amazing.”

So what does she want her students to take with them from the program?

“I want them to respect the fact that one cell on a slide of thousands of cells can make a huge difference to a person’s life when you find it.”