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Pathologist Assistant

What are pathology assistants? Is this the right career choice for me?

A pathologist assistant (PA) is a trained professional who works under the supervision of a pathologist, which is a physician that focuses on diagnosing disease and determining a cause of illness or death. A PA can work in surgical pathology or autopsy pathology.

Become a Pathologist Assistant

Pathologist Assistant Resources...

Pathologist assistant duties

Pathology assistants often are the first to examine tissue samples and determine what the supervising pathologist should examine for purposes of diagnosis. They process lab specimens, examining and dissecting them, prepare tissues for tests, or photograph specimens. PAs working in autopsy pathology will have slightly different duties, such as gaining legal approval for an autopsy, reviewing the medical history of the deceased, coordinating specimens for research or organ transplantation, and assisting in the postmortem exam. In fact, some PAs may be the first to examine the body, determining how the pathologist should perform the autopsy to determine the cause of death.

All PAs generally perform some administrative duties as well to keep the lab running smoothly, such as maintaining equipment and supplies, record keeping, billing, assisting in organizing pathology conferences, preparing reports, or training other pathology employees. Most pathologists work in hospitals, but some work in private labs, forensic pathology labs, morgues, medical examiners offices, and teaching labs. While it is not part of their responsibilities to diagnose, they are an important part of the pathologic process.

Education, training, and salary in formation

The salary is high for a pathology assistant, and averages at around $100,000 according to the BLS. However, you will need quite a bit of education and training to become a pathologist assistant. Pathologist assistant training programs usually result in a master’s degree in health science. Be sure you have a solid educational foundation in math, biology, chemistry, and calculus. These graduate level programs will consist of classroom instruction as well as lab exposure and hospital-based rotations in surgical pathology and in autopsy. Coursework includes medical technology, forensic science, general pathology, systemic pathology, clinical pathology, autopsy pathology, and surgical pathology, as well as physiology, lab management, and biology. Be sure the educational program you apply to is accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).

Pathology assistant certification

Like with many health care professions, certification is entirely voluntary. However, certification demonstrates that your skills meet the field’s standards and that your knowledge is up to date, and many employers may require it before hiring you. Certification is offered through the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s (ASCP) Board of Certification. Certified PAs will be able to use the initials PA (ASCP) as demonstration of their credential. If you are interested in pathology but are not sure if you want to go to medical school, becoming a pathologist assistant can also be a rewarding career as a skilled health care professional.

To learn more about becoming a pathologist assistant, you can contact schools that offer related health sciences programs or learn more by reading the career plan discussion on becoming a pathologist assistant. If you are still trying to determine the right career choice, take some time to explore additional careers in health care.

Additional Information

If you are just getting started and would like to learn more about becoming a pathologist assistant, you may wish to explore schools that offer undergraduate science degrees. Another option is to explore additional careers in health care whether they be in diagnostics or another pathway of health care.