Pathologist About

Pathologists are specialist physicians that undertake research and testing of medical specimens for the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Pathologists do not work directly with patients, but they do assist medical practitioners in diagnosing their patients’ illness and developing treatment plans.

To be successful as a pathologist you must have an inquiring mind, extensive medical knowledge of diseases in your specialty, and remain current in all research and testing methods.

Career Roles & Responsibilities
  • Performing specimen analysis by using laboratory tools and equipment, in order to study samples and perform tests to accurately analyze bodily fluids and tissue specimens.
  • Looking for abnormalities in samples that evidence disease and conveying this information to the relevant medical practitioner.
  • Using checklists, medical software, and retesting to get thorough and precise results.
  • Suggesting potential treatment options.
  • Writing pathology reports detailing specimens tested, results of tests, and the final diagnosis.
  • Undertaking research to improve identification and testing methods and finding innovative ways to treat disease.
  • Staying up to date with developments in the fields of pathology and medical practice.
Career Education Path Summary

Undergraduate Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), although a minimum of three years of undergraduate study is required for medical school admittance, most applicants have earned bachelor's degrees ( Since certain science courses are required for medical school admission, pre-medical students may consider pre-medicine programs and science majors; however, any major is acceptable. Required science courses and labs include biology, chemistry and physics. Students may consider volunteering at hospitals or shadowing physicians to gain practical experience.

Medical School

The first two years of a medical program include foundational coursework in the sciences, providing instruction in bodily systems and major diseases, while the final two years are devoted to clinical rotations in different areas of medicine. Pathology isn't a required rotation but may be taken as an elective. To find a medical school, students may consult the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), which lists 135-accredited U.S. medical programs as of July 2011 ( According to the LCME, residency programs and most state licensing boards require degrees from accredited programs. Upon graduating from medical school, physicians must earn licensure by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX).

Pathology Residency

Pathology residencies,which typically last four years, include training in anatomic and/or clinical pathology, providing instruction in autopsy, image analysis, cytogenetics, molecular diagnostics and protein biochemistry. Residents are also given opportunities to take electives and participate in research. As they advance, they are given more freedom and responsibility when conducting tests and making decisions. Residents are given stipends that typically increase with each year in their programs and are given other benefits, such as health insurance. Individuals may use the American Council for Graduate Medical Education to find accredited residencies and fellowships.


Pathologists who wish to specialize in areas such as dermopathology, surgical pathology or pediatric pathology need to complete a fellowship. These programs last a year or two and provide more narrowly focused training than do residencies. Fellows have opportunities to perform research tailored to their career interests. Some fellowships, such as surgical pathology, may include rotations in different areas, such as gastrointestinal, breast, soft tissue and gynecologic pathology.

As a consultant you'll gradually gain more experience in your clinical duties and take on more responsibilities. You'll have the opportunity to move into managerial roles, initially as a medical lead (a lead consultant for a team), then as a clinical director (a lead consultant for a department) and later on as a medical director (a lead consultant for a hospital trust).

If you wish to take up scientific research and an academic career, you'll need to start early during your Foundation Training, as this field is highly competitive.

Pathologists interested in teaching future doctors may become a director of medical education, training programme director or associate dean in charge of the entire training programme.

There are also opportunities to work in the private sector or to set up your own practice. Depending on your specialty, you may have to be geographically mobile in order to move up to the next level in your career.

Similar Careers
  • The basic starting salary for junior hospital doctor trainees at Foundation Training level is £29,384 to £34,012. As a trainee doctor you'll receive a basic salary plus pay for any hours over 40 per week, a salary enhancement for working nights, a weekend allowance and an availability allowance if you're on-call.
  • As a trainee at specialty level you can earn between £40,257 to £53,398. Salaries for specialty doctors (staff grade) range from £50,373 to £78,759.
  • If you are a specialist grade doctor you'll earn a basic salary of £80,693 to £91,584.
  • Salaries for newly qualified consultants start at £88,364 rising to £119,133 depending on your length of service.
Career Pros Details
Pros of a Medical Pathologist Career
Higher than average salary (median $251,000)
High job-growth field (14% expected growth between 2014-2024 for all surgeons and physicians)*
Several specialization options***
Job opportunities in a wide variety of settings***
Career Cons Details
Cons of a Medical Pathologist Career
Medical school is costly (78% of students graduate in debt)
Requires a 3-4-year residency beyond medical school***
Entrance to medical school is very competitive*
Associated risks of working with viruses, bacteria and human bodily fluids***
May work long hours*
  • excellent knowledge of the scientific processes behind changes in the body's cells and tissue, which can cause disease
  • strong diagnostic skills to determine the type of disease, its severity and extent
  • good problem-solving and clinical decision-making skills
  • the ability to work alone and in multidisciplinary teams
  • good time management and organisational skills
  • the ability to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, with patients and staff from a range of backgrounds
  • an inquisitive mind and self-motivation
  • the ability to influence others and to prioritise effectively
  • scientific curiosity and an analytical, enquiring mind
  • leadership ability.
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