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What does a Pathologist do?

Pathologists are physicians who have a specialty that includes the study of bodily tissues and fluid so information can be derived and used for making a comprehensive diagnosis of a patient.  A pathologist will use studies for the purposes of determining the stage of specific diseases.  The doctor will handle specimens from the patient and use them to determine what disease is present and the cause if applicable. In some cases, a pathologist might be responsible for performing autopsies as

There are many subspecialties under the title of pathologist and such specialists will be further explored later in this article.  Some possible job titles a pathologist might work under include a Pathology Laboratory Directory, Oral Pathologist, Forensic Pathologist, Dermatopathologist, Cytopathologist, Attending Pathologist, Associate Pathologist, or Anatomic Pathologist, just to name a few.

The job of a pathologist involves a lot of detective work wherein the individual has to assess fluids and tissue samples and examine any patient related reports passed on by the patient’s primary care physician. In some instances, a pathologist will provide patients with treatment or care recommendations.  Often, a pathologist can be found working alongside a doctor who handles post-mortem autopsies.

Pathologists must create a full report of their findings following specimen analysis. As an example, the pathologist working alongside or in conjunction with the Medical Examiner in the morgue might be responsible for running a full set of toxicology tests to see if there are any drugs or other substances in the deceased patient’s body that may have served as a contributor to the person’s death.  Following such testing, the pathologist would be responsible for summarizing findings in a full medical report and passing this information onto the Medical Examiner.  The report would likely contain a full summary of any information supplied by the patient’s primary care physician, hospital physicians and nurses who worked with the patient if applicable, the testing conducted, and the probabilities and possibilities of what was the actual cause of death, if it can be determined with the documented information and collected specimens.  Such a practitioner would fall under the subspecialty of Forensic Pathologist.

Who is a Pathologist?

Pathologists typically do not interact directly with a specific patient and instead work along with other physicians, particularly those responsible for the patient’s primary care.  To enter the field working as a pathologist, a student must successfully graduate from a medical school that is fully accredited and obtain a Ph.D. following the completion of all undergraduate work.  During the course of one’s studies, the student will likely develop a concentration on the type of specialty he or she wants to pursue when entering the medical field.

Pathologist Job Description


Within the laboratory setting the pathologist is one who will work with an array of medical equipment.  Such equipment may include, but is not limited to immunology analyzers, blood irradiators, flow cytometers, microtomes, non-vacuum blood collection equipment, Petri plates, photometers, surgical bone biopsy trephones, and temperature cycling chambers. The pathologist will also work with an array of software during the job, including accounting, information retrieval, medical, and office suite software applications.

When working as a pathologist, the individual will rely on the use of microscope samples to detect abnormalities within the samples collected. The job of this individual is disease diagnosis and/or the study of different medically-related conditions using knowledge related to molecular biology, flow cytometry, immunology, clinical chemistry, cytopathology, cytology, histology, and gross pathology.  A pathologist might have to identify morphologically-related changes or identify the pathogenesis and/or etiology of diseases.  The types of tests a pathologist might work with include polymerase change reactions, fine needle aspirations, hormonal assays, urine analyses, parasite tests and microbial tests. Autopsy analysis is also sometimes required.

Part and parcel of the Pathologist job description are the ability to be an active listener, critical thinker, and one needs to have strong reading, speaking, and writing skills.  Inductive reasoning skills, oral comprehension, deductive reasoning skills, and problem sensitivity are key to the success of the pathologist.

Pathologist Duties and Tasks

  • Test images or data and analyze them to determine a treatment plan or initial diagnosis.
  • Reports preparation indicating the care of a patient and diagnostic findings.
  • Laboratory equipment operation for medical sample analysis.
  • Medical condition diagnosis.
  • Laboratory specimen analysis for finding abnormalities or other issues.
  • Sometimes (rarely) conducts patient consults, but usually, refers diagnosis to the primary care physician.
  • Autopsy completion and documentation.
  • Toxicology testing and reports.

Skills Required

  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Critical Thinking
  • Exceptional Communication
  • Writing Skills
  • Reading Skills
  • Equipment Use and Training

Working Conditions


The Pathologist career is one pursued by a person interested in the medical field and working with tissue and blood samples to help diagnosis patience and to stage existing diseases.  This is a medical career where the individual has little face to face or one on one interaction with patients and is very much behind the scenes conducting tests, assessing medical records, comparing notes, and producing reports. These reports are then passed on to the doctor in charge of the patient’s care. Much of the pathologist’s job is conducted within a laboratory, and they can be found working extended hours in hospitals and clinics. Some locations may even have a dedicated pathology department. The job is a full-time position with plenty of overtime.  In fact, the average work week spans 45 to 52 hours.  There are some part-time positions that require about 30 hours of work during the week.


Pathologist Salary


The pathologist salary is sizeable, even with the national average being about $201,000. It should be noted that the question of how much does a Pathologist make is likely to vary from one specialty to another, and not every single specialty has been surveyed, so the information shared below covers the medical pathologist position in general.  Where an individual resides may play a role I how much he or she earns annually in the position of pathologist.

How Much does a Pathologist Make?

Entry level pathologists make a bit lower than national average and start out at about $192,000, but after about five years working in one’s specialty, the salary increases to about $8,000 a year to $209,000 per annum.  When achieving the experienced level of ten to 15 years, the pathologist will make roughly $242,000 a year.  Those who remain in the field for twenty years or more can make $254,000 or more.


If broken down into percentages, the entry level medical pathologist makes about 4% less than the national average. Once reaching mid-career the individual makes about 4% more than the national average.  Experienced pathologists make 20% over the national average per annum, and those in their late career make 27% more.

Pathologist Employment


Of those individuals in the title of pathologist who were surveyed, five out five noted being extremely satisfied with the position. Of those under the medical pathologist job title already in the field, about 9% have less than a year on the job, and about 37% has about one to four years of experience.  Another 14% have five to nine years of experience, and 21% of those in the field have been working as a pathologist for 10 to 19 years. Those who have more than 20 years of experience count for about 18% of all actively working medical pathologists.

Most pathologists, about 86%, have medical coverage.  Some 61% of pathologists have dental coverage.  About 47% have vision coverage, and about 14% of pathologists have no kind of coverage whatsoever.


It should be noted that these figures may not be exact as the national survey serving as a resource offered broad information about physicians and surgeons only.  Since the role of pathologist is so broad and can have so many focuses, only the most general of information is shared here. To that end, the figures below fall under the subcategory of “Physicians and Surgeons, All Others,” and excludes Anesthesiologists, Family Practitioners, General Practitioners, Internists, Obstetricians, Gynecologists, Pediatricians, and Psychiatrists.


Over the course of time more females have chosen to pursue the career path of the pathologist.  Per some studies, in 2002 to 2003, women made up about 46% of all occupied positions and were still outnumbered by males working in different specialties.  However, since 2004, the numbers increased between 49 and 53%.  These numbers have risen incredibly since the 1990s when only 14% of females were working as pathologists. Today that number is considerably higher, with 63% of all pathologists being females.  Men and women tend to work the same number of hours.  Men will sometimes take paternity leave although for a shorter duration than females taking maternity leave.


How to Become a Pathologist?


The question of how to become a Pathologist involves the question of what type of education one requires.  The Pathologist education requirements are extensive and require the person choose a specialty to focus on as they obtain a medical degree from an accredited institution. A Ph.D. is required to work under this job title.

Pathologist Education Requirements

The study a pathologist goes through takes at least 12 years. The education starts out with a pre-medical bachelor’s degree. Following the bachelor degree program completion, the individual then must pursue undergrad studies, and then attendance at a medical school that is accredit is the next step in the progression toward becoming a pathologist.  The student must get a Doctor of Osteopathy D.O. or a Medical Doctor M.D. degree, either of which takes four more years of study.  During that time, the student might study emergency medicine, medical ethics, cardiology, and pathology, among other medically related coursework.

Upon the completion of a M.D. or D.O, the student must do a residency which takes and additional three to four years to finish.  When participating in a residency the pathologist will work with other medical student or might teach others.  Several residencies focus on clinical pathology or anatomic pathology or a mix of both options.  When the student successfully completes the required residency, it is possible to advance further in a one to two yearlong pathology fellowship.  Subspecialties can include things like genetic pathology, transfusion medicine, pediatric pathology, or hematology.

Following the successfully completed residency or fellowship, the individual will need to take the USMLE – United States Medical Licensing Examination and pass it to get a license to become a Medical Doctor. If looking to become and M.O. or osteopathic doctor, the student must complete the COMLE: Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam.  The student must test in his or her state of residence to qualify for licensing.

As a pathologist with a chosen specialty, the student must complete and pass the NBCE: National Board Certification Examination with a focus on the chosen specialty in question.  The ABP: American Board of Pathology is the group that offers certification testing.

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.

Pathologist Colleges

There are many Pathologist colleges to choose from when you are ready to begin the pursuit of the career.  You should start your schooling with a pathology interest already in mind.  It’s a good idea to look for internship opportunities in one’s local community early on: good places to look include a coroner’s office or a crime lab. Seek out a program that offers residency placement as well.  Below are the leading ten schools to begin your pursuit of a medical degree:

  1. Ohio State University, Main Campus, Columbus, Ohio
  2. Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
  3. Pennsylvania State University, Hershey, Pennsylvania
  4. New York University, New York, New York
  5. University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
  6. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  7. University or Washington, Seattle Campus, Seattle, Washington
  8. University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
  9. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
  10. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California

Major Subjects

Coursework as one studies for a medical degree and a career in pathology will vary depending upon one’s selected specialty.  Subjects that are likely to be encountered during one’s academic career include medicine, dentistry, biology, English composition, administration and management, computers, electronics, personal service, education training, and chemistry.  Additional courses might include public safety, security, psychology, and law and government.  Specialty studies might include coursework in chemistry, hematology, medical microbiology, forensics, Pediatrics, neuropathy, and molecular genetic pathology, among other courses and subjects.

Pathologist Specializations


Students have a lot of options when it comes to pathology and subjects one can focus on as a specialty in the field. Some common specialties include:

Chemical pathology – involves the study of the body and how disease affects it. Involves urine and blood test analysis and the study of biochemical and chemical mechanisms.

Cytopathology – The study of diseases and the diagnosis of such conditions with reliance of an examination what is collected for examination on a cellular level.

Hematology – A study of the blood, its properties and its physiology.

Medical microbiology – this deals with infectious diseases and looks to prevent illness from occurring including diagnosis, prevention, and control.

Forensic pathology – A post-mortem autopsy to determine cause of death when the cause of death is not apparent.

Forensic pathology is a job of forensics. It is pathology that focuses on determining the cause of death by examining a corpse. The post mortem is performed by a medical examiner, usually during the investigation of criminal law cases and civil law cases in some jurisdictions.

Professional Associations of a Pathologist

The American Society of Investigative Pathologists is one of several associations of a pathologist. The membership is open to those who qualify. Also, known as the ASIP, the organization is a society for scientists in the field of pathology, including biomedical scientists, who are trained to identify disease mechanisms. This group exists for the purposes of perpetuating professional career development in the field of pathology; to help keep members educated about the latest technologies and innovations in the field, and the organization provides access to professional investigators into pathology, all while enforcing the importance of education and development, particularly for those who are new to the to the task. The American Society of Investigative Pathologists welcomes both clinical and basic biomedical research scientists into its fold. The organization is a member of FASEB otherwise known as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The latter group serves many independent societies, all of which have a crucial role in lobbying the interests of well over 115,000 biomedical researchers.

Famous Pathologists

One of the most famous pathologists is Jacob Kevorkian (May 1928 – June 2011) a native of Pontiac, Michigan, who is more famously known as “Dr. Death.” Along with being a pathologist, he was also a musician, painter, and author. He worked for Henry Ford Hospital, the University of Michigan Medical Center, and Saratoga General Hospital. His specialty in pathology was euthanasia medicine where he was an expert in euthanasia and the notion of a painless death. Kevorkian was known for his unusual ideas pertaining to death and assisted suicides. He was for the first to propose using death row inmates for the purposes of scientific study, of course with the full consent of the patient first. Later, in the 1980s he put forth a series of articles in a journal pertaining to his thoughts on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Per his attorney, he helped more than 130 people commit suicide in the eight years between 1990 and 1998. He even built two of his own euthanasia devices and hooked up patients to it. It was called the Thanatron, which is rooted in the Greek word Thanatos who is the Greek God of Death: The device allowed patients to inject themselves with deadly drugs/chemicals. The second device had a gas mask and was Mercitron, which was used to gas the patient.  Eventually he ended up in prison for his actions after much scandal and questioning: Seeing that many patients were not counseled beyond 24 hours of meeting Kevorkian before he assisted them with suicide. At the age of 83, he passed away from thrombosis.

Pathologists FAQ

What is the job outlook for pathologists?

Experts who survey those in the workforce surmise that opportunities for doctors remain in good standing up until the year 2022 and the anticipated growth rate is about 18%. Job should be available in underserved communities, rural areas, private practices, medical centers, hospitals, and more.

What are the pros and cons of working as a pathologist?

One of the major pros of being a pathologist specializing in a kind of medical field is the sizable salary one receives even upon entry level. Most pathologists make at least $200,000 or more a year per annum. However, the downside of this is that the job usually requires 45 to 52 hours per week each week. The long hours can prove tiresome and cut into family time. On the same token, what is a pathologist opens father’s up to paternity leave and mothers up to maternity leave.

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