If you're seeking a medical career that calls on you to be a problem solver, you might be a natural fit for pathology. You could combine your natural sense of curiosity with your fervor for science, and play a critical role in helping provide patients with the answers they’re seeking.
While patients are accustomed to their physicians communicating diagnosis, they are largely unaware of what goes on behind the scenes that lead to the translation of tests into concrete diagnoses.
A pathologist is a healthcare provider who studies and tests human tissues to identify abnormalities and diagnose diseases. They study the cause, nature, and effects of a variety of diseases and work alongside other healthcare professionals to reach a diagnosis.
The Doctor’s Doctor
Pathologists are often referred to as the doctor's doctor because they are the ones who help the physicians make or confirm a diagnosis by studying tissue and fluid samples. Pathologists can even help identify an appropriate treatment plan based on their knowledge of what the patient is likely to experience in the coming days and weeks.
Pathologists 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 diseases.
There are two primary types of pathologists, namely clinical pathologists and anatomic pathologists. While the former focuses on analyzing laboratory results, the latter is more concerned with examining structural changes in tissue samples. A physician can also choose to become a board-certified pathologist in both branches.
Further, there are numerous subspecialties pathologists can pursue through fellowship training and the corresponding certification. These include:
The Road to a Career in Pathology
The road to a career in pathology is a rigorous one, quite similar to that of any other medical field.
If you are certain about exploring a career in pathology, you must take plenty of challenging science and math classes including advanced placement courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus during your high school years. You can also explore summer study programs in healthcare or volunteer at a clinic/hospital.
You will then need to attend a four-year medical school to build a solid educational foundation.
This is followed by obtaining a medical degree from either an Osteopathic Medical Program (D.O. degree) or an Allopathic Medical program (M.D. degree) which takes four years to complete.
After medical school, one must match into a pathology residency training program. Most pathology residency programs are four years long and are associated with at least one hospital.
After residency, individuals have the option of completing a fellowship in a specialty field of study. Most fellowships are one year and allow individuals to further specialize in a specific section of pathology. Once training is complete, most pathologists must complete board certification.
Job Outlook and Salary Details
The job outlook and demand for pathologists are very positive. The wide scope of the field of pathology encompasses several sub-specialties and therefore consistently generates numerous employment opportunities.
Simply stated, the demand for pathologists is as certain as the occurrence of disease.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical pathologists made a median annual salary of $196,987, as of 2019. Pathologist assistants make a national average of $61,930 per year. As with all jobs, the salary of a pathologist depends on several factors including geographic location, experience, and employer.
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 specializing in a particular part of the body. Chiropractors 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 diagnose, treat, and operate on the feet, ankles, and lower legs of patients experiencing complications in these areas.