Physiology and pathology are two distinct fields of science that include the study of cells. Read on to learn how a formal study of physiology, pathology and related sciences can lead to a career as a medical pathologist, physician or physician assistant.
Physiology studies the physical, mechanical and biochemical processes of living organisms. As a physiologist, you could examine cellular systems, genes, tissues and organs. You might also perform research for drug companies or become an exercise physiologist, devising fitness plans to improve patients' health and body functions.
Pathology studies the causes and progress of diseases, examining tissues, organs, body fluids and cells. Pathologists are specialized physicians who work with living patients or in morgues, conducting autopsies and uncovering causes of death. As a pathologist, you may use lab tests and a microscope to see if diseases are present in a patient's sample. You might report your findings to other medical professionals or criminal justice officials. If you're interested in this field of study, you might also pursue a career as a pathologist assistant, dissecting specimens, preparing samples for testing and performing other duties directed by a pathologist.
According to the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the 11 areas of specialization associated with clinical and anatomic pathology include hematology and forensic pathology (www.abms.org). Additional career opportunities may be found in biotechnology, health care, research and education, as well as in some industries.
In May 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that biological scientists, such as biochemists and biophysicists, earned a median annual salary of $84,320. Opportunities for employment were expected to grow by 19% nationwide between 2012 and 2022. By comparison, employment of physicians and surgeons was projected to increase by 18%, with a 38% growth in jobs expected for physician assistants during the same 10-year period. While physician assistants earned a median annual salary of $92,970 in May 2013, salaries for physicians and surgeons varied according to specialty.
Nationwide, the BLS projected a 9% increase in job openings for exercise physiologists through 2022. As of May 2013, they earned a median annual wage of $46,020. Based upon information provided by PayScale.com, the median annual salary for a medical pathologist in July 2014 was $174,073, while pathology assistants earned $60,399 a year.
As an undergraduate, you may pursue a major in animal or human physiology, neuroscience or integrative physiology. A bachelor's degree in physiology may qualify you for an entry-level clinical job, or a position as a research technician, medical writer or science teacher at a middle or high school. Completion of a bachelor's or graduate degree program in exercise physiology could lead to a job in health fitness or therapy. Undergraduate and graduate programs in physiology can also prepare you for admission to medical, dental or veterinary school.
A master's degree in physiology may open the door to more advanced research, clinical and teaching opportunities, as well as public health positions. As a graduate with a Doctor of Physiology (Ph.D.) in Physiology, you might operate your own research laboratory and seek funding grants. You could also supervise a research team at a company, government agency, hospital or university, or teach at the college level. Doctoral programs in pathology may also prepare you for work in academia, biotechnology or research.
You'll need to complete a Medical Doctor or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program to qualify for a position as a pathologist. Additional requirements include a specialized residency, usually 3-4 years in length, and a certification from the American Board of Pathology. Certification in a pathology subspecialty may require 1-2 years of additional training. As a medical doctor, you'll also need to meet your state's licensing requirements.