Medical Pathologist: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Explore the career requirements for a medical pathologist. Get the facts about job outlook, education requirements, and licensure to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Medical Pathologist?

Medical pathologists study diseases and conduct medical investigations into how and why people die. They study body fluids and tissues, and run laboratory tests to help monitor the conditions of patients with various kinds of chronic issues. With this aspect of the job, they often work with primary care physicians to provide patients with the best care possible. Pathologists will also perform autopsies to determine the cause of death and acquire additional information about a particular disease. Their findings may be used to help develop new treatments or possible cures for a disease. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Neuropathology; cytotechnology; forensic pathology
Key Responsibilities DNA analysis; drug safety studies; cause of death determination
Licensure Medical Doctor (MD) license
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14%* (all physicians and surgeons)
Median Salary (2016) $199,164**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Will I Do as a Medical Pathologist?

As a medical pathologist, you'll analyze tissue, body fluids and cells in order to better examine and identify the immunology of disease. You will also identify DNA and genetics through fine needle aspirations and biopsies. You are responsible for studying new drugs to determine if they are safe. Another aspect of the career revolves around determining how and why an individual died. This duty involves examining cadavers or living patients to determine the cause of death, and then testifying in court cases. You may also be on standby in the operating room to take tissue or blood samples so that the surgeons can better know how to help a patient.

What Can I Anticipate of this Career?

In 2015, Salary.com stated that the median salary for pathologists was $256,180, while PayScale.com reported a median salary of $199,164 in October 2016 (www.payscale.com). Those who taught at universities, particularly those who taught health specialties, earned a median salary of $90,840 annually in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). Overall employment of physicians, including medical pathologists, is expected to grow by 14% from 2014-2024, based on BLS data.

What Education is Required?

A Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree is needed to become a medical pathologist. This requires completion of a pre-med undergraduate degree program and an M.D. program. A 4-year pathology residency program follows so you can master professional skills. Further training in a 1-2-year fellowship is required to have a specialty. Specialty areas you may choose from include neuropathology, blood banking, radioisotopic pathology, cytotechnology, hematopathology and forensic pathology. A law degree can be useful if you'll frequently be involved in court cases or want to become a forensic specialist. Typically, you'll spend about twelve years in training before practicing with full licensure.

What Credentials Do I Need?

Besides a medical degree and residencies, you'll also need to seek state licensure to practice as a physician. The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) can be completed in three steps and tests your science, medical and clinical knowledge (www.usmle.org). To take the first two steps of the exam you must be enrolled in a medical degree program. To sit for the third step you must have completed a medical degree program and passed the first two steps. The American Board for Pathology also offers certification for medical pathologists for licensed doctors (www.abpath.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several related careers in the medical field, including chiropractors, optometrists and podiatrists, all of which require a doctoral or professional degree. Each of these careers is a doctor that specializes in a particular part of the body. Chiropractors will work with a patient's nerves, muscles, bones and more to help manage neck and back pain through things like spinal adjustments. Optometrists diagnose and treat any condition of the eye and visual system, as well as prescribing glasses or contacts to improve vision. Podiatrists will diagnose, treat and even operate on the feet, ankles and lower legs of patients experiencing complications in these areas.

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