Become a Medical Pathologist 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a medical pathologist. Learn about job duties, education and licensure requirements, employment outlook and average wages to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Medical Pathologist?

Medical pathologists may work in hospitals, clinics, medical schools or government agencies. They focus on analyzing samples of tissues and fluids to diagnose and research diseases. Medical pathologists are required to have a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) or M.D. (medical doctor) degree, be nationally licensed, and pass the pathology exam. While they have the same level of training as other medical doctors, they pursue their residency in pathology and don't usually treat patients as part of their duties. Medical pathologists may, however, correlate data and provide information for medical doctors to use in the treatment of patients. Their responsibilities may also include performing autopsies to determine cause of death and reporting their findings to medical or legal professionals as needed.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree; additional medical schooling is required
Licensure License required as part of medical school
Key Responsibilities Knowledge of current medical technology, physical dexterity, ability to pay close attention to detail
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% (faster than average, for physicians and surgeons)*
Median Salary (2016) $191,945**

Sources: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

To prepare for medical school, you can complete a degree in a field of science, such as chemistry or biology, or a degree in another field as long as you have taken courses in biology, chemistry, English and math. You should also make the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) a high priority toward the end of your undergraduate program. The MCAT is an important predictor of future success in medical school, according the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Step 2: Go to Medical School

Medical school programs are typically four years in length and prepare you for work as a medical resident in the field of pathology. Toward the end of medical school, you should start gaining laboratory experience in pathology. During this time, you should also take courses in pathology and begin looking for residency opportunities.

Step 3: Prepare for Licensure

Medical doctors of all types, including pathologists, must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). The exam is divided into three parts, and you can take parts one and two while in medical school. Part three is generally taken in the first year of residency.

Step 4: Complete Residency

Medical pathologists typically complete three to four years of residency. During the residency period, you can choose to specialize in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology or both. Anatomic pathologists examine bodily tissues and organs, while clinical pathologists study body fluids.

Step 5: Become Certified

The American Board of Pathology certifies pathologists who have completed a residency program in anatomic or clinical pathology, or both, and who have met experience qualifications, which can include 24-49 months of training in the field, according to the American Board of Pathology. A certification exam is also required.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other types of specialist physicians, such as dermatologists and gastroenterologists, perform duties similar to those of pathologists. Dermatologists focus on diagnosing and treating skin issues, and gastroenterologists treat patients who are experiencing problems within their digestive systems. These types of physicians have more patient interaction than pathologists do and must have a medical degree. Veterinarians must have a doctoral degree, and they focus on the medical care of animals. Physician assistants must have a master's degree to allow them to work under the supervision of physicians. Physician assistants conduct tests and help diagnose and develop treatment plans for patients.

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