Pathologist: Job Duties, Occupational Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for pathologists. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary and potential job growth 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 Pathologist?

Pathologists are specialty physicians that use bodily fluids and tissues to help study, diagnose, and treat diseases. They work in various medical settings, performing research and patient tests, and often collaborating with other professionals in their field. Pathologists must be licensed, certified, and hold a doctoral degree.

The following chart is an overview of a career in pathology.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathy
Training Required 4-year pathology residency; 1-2 year optional pathology fellowship
Licensure Required State medical license; pathology board certification
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 14% for all physicians and surgeons
Median Annual Salary (2016)** $191,945

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

What Education Do I Need to Become a Pathologist?

The road to becoming a pathologist can take 12 years or more, and begins with earning your bachelor's degree in a program with a pre-medical curriculum. After your undergrad studies are complete, you must attend an accredited medical school and earn either a Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. Both M.D. and D.O programs are four years in length and can include studies in pathology, emergency medicine, cardiology and medical ethics.

After receiving your M.D. or D.O. degree you are eligible to perform a pathology residency, which generally last three to four years. During your residency you may have opportunities to conduct research and teach other medical students. Most residencies focus on anatomic or clinical pathology, or a combination of both.

Following the residency, you may opt to specialize further through a 1-2 year pathology fellowship. You can choose to work in subspecialties such as hematology, pediatric pathology, transfusion medicine and genetic pathology.

What License and Certification Do I Need?

Upon finishing a residency you can become licensed by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination to become a medical doctor or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam to become an osteopathic doctor. You must also acquire a license in the state where you plan to practice.

To practice as a pathologist, you must pass a national board certification exam in your specialty. Board certification is offered by the American Board of Pathology, which also provides subspecialty certification in:

  • Chemical pathology
  • Cytopathology
  • Blood banking and transfusion
  • Hematology
  • Medical microbiology
  • Molecular genetic pathology
  • Neuropathology
  • Pediatric pathology
  • Dermatopathology
  • Forensic pathology

What Would My Job Responsibilities Be?

As a pathologist, you might examine and diagnose bodily fluids, such as blood and urine, or tissues from biopsies and Pap smears, to diagnose disease. You may possibly perform autopsies to determine a cause of death. You also could be the physician in charge of a laboratory with the responsibility of managing other physicians and lab technicians. You are also required to stay abreast of research and development in the field of pathology and to keep current on existing data in medical practices and disease.

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, career opportunities for all physicians and surgeons are very good and are expected to grow by about 14% from 2014 through 2024. You might find jobs in large hospitals, medical centers and private practices, and could have more opportunities in rural or underserved communities.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Aside from specializing in general pathology, one can further concentrate on other areas such as oral, pediatric, and anatomic pathology. Other medical careers that require doctorates include those of chiropractors, optometrists, and podiatrists. Chiropractors typically work independently, and their specialty is examining and treating human anatomy, particularly the locomotor system. Optometrists are concerned with visual health. They examine patients' eyesight and provide prescriptions for eyeglasses and contacts if needed. A podiatrist is an expert in feet and the lower legs, a common place people suffer from injuries and other issues.

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