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Pathologist Career

Explore the world of pathology and the multi-faceted role of a pathologist

Pathologists are medical doctors, but they’re sometimes compared to detectives. When it comes to anything from food poisoning to rare illnesses or violence, they specialize in knowing the pathogenesis – the reason why. Some pathologists handle autopsies, but the majority work to determine what is ailing living people. There are two types of pathologist: clinical and anatomic.

Become a Pathologist

Pathology Resources...

What is a pathologist?

Pathologists often work as consulting physicians in medical settings. They are part of a team that can include both doctors and technologists or lab scientists. They have more specialized knowledge and do more of the decision making than most other team members. Laboratory scientists may perform analysis and testing and report the results, but it’s the pathologist who determines which tests should be done. Pathologists may assist other medical doctors with duties as diverse as monitoring treatments or identifying matches for bone marrow transplants. Some pathologists perform medical procedures. Anatomical pathologists do bodily inspections and dissections that are required for biopsy or autopsy.

Pathologists can also be both scientists and educators. They are frequently in charge of making sure that medical laboratories follow the best protocol; they may also develop newer and better protocol. They often oversee, work with, and collaborate with pathology assistants. They may also teach university classes in pathology to medical students and provide continuing education to experienced physicians. While the majority of pathologists are on the hospital staff, other options exist. Some pathologists become consultants outside the hospital setting. For example, they may be hired by governmental organizations.

Sub-specialties in pathology

Pathologists may select a subspecialty like molecular genetic pathology, neuropathology, pediatric pathology, or forensic pathology. A neuropathologist might be an expert in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disease. A molecular genetics pathologist might look at the different mutations that are involved in the pathogenesis of a tumor or add to the growing body of knowledge about inherited disorders. The medical profession is still in the early stages of applying and using this information, but it should become more important as the knowledge base grows.

Pathologists are physicians

Pathologists have a medical school education. They usually enter MD or DO programs after earning a bachelor’s degree. Programs are competitive, and look at GPA, MCAT scores, health care experience, and (sometimes) research.

Like other physicians, pathologists complete a residency after they finish medical school. This involves supervised practice. Residents are paid during their residency years, but monetary compensation is typically low until they finish training. Pathologists may choose a three year residency in either anatomical or clinical pathology. Some choose to do a four year combined residency and seek board certification in both fields. Performing autopsies is part of the required training for anatomical pathologists but not clinical ones.

With medical school and a pathology residency, pathologists are qualified for multiple roles. Some, however, choose to specialize further and to limit their practice to a particular branch of pathology. In order to become board certified in a subspecialty, a pathologist must do further training. Most sub-specialties require a one year fellowship, but some require two.

By completing medical school and passing all steps of the USMLE, a person is well on her way to earning state licensure and the MD title. The additional training qualifies her for board certification through an independent agency, the American Board for Clinical Pathology.


Those years of schooling pay off. The Medical Laboratory Observer conducted a 2010 salary survey and reported an average of $244,166 for pathologists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report salaries for pathologists, but does note that medical specialists generally make significantly more than doctors who are in general practice. Jobs for pathologists are expected to grow, fueled in part by changing demographics and an increased need for medical care.

Additional Information

If you are just getting started and would like to learn more about becoming a pathologist, you may wish to explore schools that offer undergraduate science degrees. You may also be interested in learning more about then certification and licensure process for pathologist countrywide. Another option is to explore additional careers in health care whether they be in diagnostics or another area of health care.