What is a pathologist and how does a person become one? (2023)

Pathology refers to the study and understanding of diseases and their impact on the body. An individual working in this field is a medical healthcare professional, known as a pathologist, who diagnoses, treats, and prevents a range of diseases.

The term pathology comes from ancient Greek and translates to the study of suffering. Doctors and scientists working in pathology are experts in illness and disease and use their expertise to support every aspect of healthcare.

There are different routes to becoming a pathologist, but they involve years of studying and training. Pathologists may practice in all areas of pathology, but they will typically specialize in a certain field or discipline within this subject, such as neuropathology, hematopathology, or dermatopathology.

In this article, we will discuss what pathologists do, how to become one, and the types of specialties that exist.


(Video) What is a pathologist?

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Pathology is a general term to describe the study of diseases and injuries that may occur in the human body. By obtaining samples of bodily cells, fluids, and tissues and then analyzing them, an expert can identify any abnormalities or distinct changes. This enables them to better understand the cause of the issue, how it is progressing, and how the condition is affecting the body’s typical functions and processes.

Pathologists are typically either doctors with specialist laboratory training or scientists with specialist clinical training. They work closely with other healthcare professionals and contribute toward the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of diseases. They are responsible for performing laboratory tests to show the presence, cause, and severity of diseases and to monitor the progress of the condition and effects of treatment.

While most pathologists receive training in both the clinical and anatomical realm of pathology, some receive additional training, giving them expertise in a certain subspecialty of their choosing.

How to become one

(Video) How to Become a Pathologist

The route to pathology will usually commence after the successful completion of a related degree and training. A person will then complete a residency, where they study and practice pathology under the training of experts in the field. The field of pathology encompasses both anatomic and clinical aspects, with anatomic focusing on the effect of disease on the human body and clinical involving laboratory work and supervising testing procedures.

A person may choose to specialize in one of these disciplines or take a longer residency and practice both. The final step to becoming a pathologist is passing a board certification exam.

The path to becoming a pathologist may follow a similar trajectory as follows:

  1. An individual will first go to college and receive an undergraduate education in a medical-related subject. They may already be considering which subspecialties are of interest, as this may help them choose a suitable medical school.
  2. Next, a person will take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Most students take this during their junior year so that they can get their results by the time they apply to medical school. Most medical schools share their minimum MCAT requirement along with the average incoming student MCAT scores to inform prospective students about ideal scores.
  3. After medical school, an individual must complete a pathology residency, which typically lasts 4 years. This is when prospective pathologists participate in rotations at hospitals to learn different skill sets such as microbiology, immunology, and more. Pathologists choosing a subspecialty will complete one or two additional years of fellowship training in that specific field.
  4. Prospective pathologists must then obtain a Doctor of Medicine license after completing a medical doctorate and residency.
  5. All pathologists must then receive certification. In the United States, the American Board of Pathology certifies eligible doctors. In order to obtain this, an individual must have a medical degree from an accredited school, completed their pathology residency, have a medical license, and passed a certification test. A person may also become a member of the College of American Pathologists or the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
  6. Lastly, a pathologist may want to have a subspecialty. While this is optional, any individual interested in having a subspecialty must complete a fellowship where they receive additional training in their area of interest. A person will complete this fellowship at a hospital, and it typically lasts around 2 years.

Some pathologists have a subspecialty within a certain discipline of pathology. This typically requires additional training and an assessment of knowledge. While training standards and organizations may differ between countries, they largely cover similar duties. Some subspecialties and their corresponding responsibilities include:

(Video) So You Want to Be a PATHOLOGIST [Ep. 34]

Blood banking or transfusion

A pathologist specializing in this area is responsible for the monitoring, processing, and compatibility of blood products. This involves ensuring sufficient blood is available and overseeing the safety, testing, and preparations for blood and blood components.

Clinical pathology

Clinical pathologists, sometimes known as chemical pathologists, are experts in biochemistry and how changes in bodily pathways relate to disease diagnosis and progression. These individuals monitor substances in bodily fluids, such as blood and urine, to assess changes in an individual’s body chemistry.

Clinical informatics

A pathologist who specializes in clinical informatics aims to improve patient and society health outcomes, patient care, and doctor-patient relationships. They do this by evaluating data, health trends, and communication systems and collaborating with other healthcare professionals. These individuals use the information they collect to try to improve and polish medical processes that will allow for better patient outcomes.


Cytopathologists analyze cell samples from bodily fluids to check for cellular abnormalities and use that information to study and diagnose conditions. They use techniques that enable them to observe cells, such as staining methods or using a microscope.


Dermatopathologists specialize in interpreting skin biopsies to help diagnose a variety of skin conditions. This may involve studying a skin sample under a microscope to evaluate the tissue’s structure, detect any agents causing the condition, and assess for abnormalities.

Forensic pathology

A forensic pathologist will study tissue in an individual after a sudden, unexpected, or violent death. They sometimes will work as a medical examiner or coroner by performing autopsies for law enforcement. It is their responsibility to help determine the cause, manner, and mechanism of death.


A pathologist who specializes in hematology studies conditions specific to blood cells, blood clotting pathways, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. These individuals use blood samples to diagnose conditions such as anemia, leukemia, lymphomas, and more.

(Video) 73 Questions with a Pathologist | ND MD

Medical microbiology

A medical microbiologist studies infectious organisms and antibiotic susceptibilities. They support and oversee the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions that result from microorganisms.

Molecular genetic pathology

A molecular genetic pathologist studies genetic markers. These individuals assist with the monitoring, diagnosis, and prognosis of diseases relating to genetic disorders, infectious diseases, and human development. They also help determine the risk of genetic disorders.


Neuropathologists are individuals who study conditions that affect the nervous system. They will frequently act as consultants to neurologists and neurosurgeons and will analyze samples postmortem to study dementia, assess trauma, and evaluate genetic conditions.

Pediatric pathology

A pathologist who specializes in pediatric pathology investigates diseases that occur in children up to 18 years of age. These individuals may also specialize in perinatal pathology, which involves the study of disorders of the placenta, problems affecting development, and causes of pregnancy loss.


(Video) How long does it take to become a pathologist?

Pathologists are medical professionals who help study the cause and progression of a disease or injury. They are typically experts in a certain subspecialty and frequently help other physicians with the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of conditions. Becoming a pathologist involves many years of education and training under experts.


What does a pathologist do? ›

A pathologist is a medical healthcare provider who examines bodies and body tissues. He or she is also responsible for performing lab tests. A pathologist helps other healthcare providers reach diagnoses and is an important member of the treatment team.

Can you become a pathologist without being a doctor? ›

You have to be a doctor, a dentist or a vet before you can become a pathologist. For most people, that means becoming a doctor, although you could also become an oral pathologist, if you get a dentistry degree, or a veterinary pathologist, if you've been to veterinary school.

Is a pathologist higher than a doctor? ›

A pathologist is a medical doctor with additional training in laboratory techniques used to study disease. Pathologists may work in a lab alongside scientists with special medical training.

How many years does it take to be a pathologist? ›

The education and training required in becoming a pathologist will require at least 11 years of education, including four years of college, four years of medical school, and three to four years of residency.

Why are pathologists called the doctors doctor? ›

Pathologists are sometimes called “the doctor's doctor.” That's because they're the ones who help a patient's physician make or confirm a diagnosis by studying tissue and fluid samples.

What type of patients does a pathologist see? ›

On any given day, pathologists impact nearly all aspects of patient care, from diagnosing cancer to managing chronic diseases such as diabetes through accurate laboratory testing. They diagnose all types of medical conditions: Diseases—by studying specimens such as polyps and biopsies.

Why would a person go see a pathologist? ›

A pathologist is a physician who studies body fluids and tissues, helps your primary care doctor make a diagnosis about your health or any medical problems you have, and uses laboratory tests to monitor the health of patients with chronic conditions.

Is a pathologist an MD? ›

A Pathologist is a highly specialized MD or DO physician whose primary area of expertise is in the study of body tissues and body fluids. It is important to understand their primary duties which include: Overseeing the management of hospital and clinical labs. Examining and interpreting laboratory tests.

Is a pathologist a PhD? ›

The PhD in Pathology & Laboratory Medicine is for students who want to participate in breakthrough scientific research and contribute to the advancement of biomedical knowledge, learning how diseases work at a mechanistic level.

Are pathologist considered doctors? ›

A pathologist is known as a physicians' physician, based on his/her vital role in patient treatment and physician education. Pathologist have completed medical school and must have at least four years of advanced medical training in a residency program to be eligible to take board certification examinations.

What are the 4 types of pathology? ›

Other branches of pathology include:
  • Anatomic pathology. The study of tissues, organs, and tumors.
  • Cytopathology. The study of cellular changes and everything related to cells.
  • Forensic pathology. Doing autopsies and legal pathology tests.
  • Molecular pathology. The study of DNA and RNA sequencing, genes, and genetics.

What kind of degree does a pathologist need? ›

Pathologists typically need a bachelor's degree, a degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete, and, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs. Medical schools are highly competitive.

Can pathologists write prescriptions? ›

Pathologists usually do not prescribe medications for their patients but instead, refer their patients to other physicians for evaluation for medication.

Do pathologists get paid well? ›

Avg Salary

Pathologists earn an average yearly salary of $200,890. Wages typically start from $60,280.

Do pathologist perform autopsies? ›

A medical examiner who does an autopsy is a doctor, usually a pathologist. Clinical autopsies are always done by a pathologist.

Does pathologist make money? ›

A mid-career Pathologist with 4-9 years of experience earns an average salary of ₹10.6 Lakhs per year, while an experienced Pathologist with 10-20 years of experience earns an average salary of ₹15 Lakhs per year.

Can a pathologist do surgery? ›

Surgical pathologists provide diagnostic information and/or second opinions. For example, when performing breast cancer surgery, a surgical pathologist's exam of tissues removed during surgery can help the surgeon to determine whether to remove lymph nodes under the arm as well.

Do pathologists do procedures? ›

Pathologists use an array of different procedures, examinations, and tests — such as pap smears, fine needle aspirations, biopsies, autopsies, blood investigations, and blood sugar tests — to help other healthcare providers reach diagnoses and determine the right course of treatment.

Do pathologists diagnose? ›

While popular medical TV shows tend to focus on the work of surgeons, doctors, and nurses, there's a vitally important medical specialty that's rarely shown on screen: pathologists, or the people who examine tissues to screen for, analyze, and diagnose abnormalities.

What does a pathologist do everyday? ›

On the daily, a pathologist will study the cause, nature and effect of a disease or condition by looking at samples of a patient's blood, body tissues or fluids. They may be able to estimate the course a disease will take based on test results.

Who is under a pathologist? ›

A pathologists' assistant is a highly trained, certified allied health professional who is qualified by academic and practical training to provide services in anatomic pathology under the supervision of a licensed, board-certified, or board-eligible anatomic pathologist.

What is the difference between a pathologist and a therapist? ›

“Are speech therapists and speech pathologists the same? ' is a question that speech-language pathologists are asked all the time. The simple answer is that there is no difference between them, they are the same profession.

Do pathologist make mistakes? ›

The reported frequency of anatomic pathologic errors ranges from 1% to 43% of all specimens, regardless of origin and disease, he said. The error rate for oncology is 1% to 5%.

What is the difference between a pathologist and a coroner? ›

Typically, there are two types of reports written after a death: a coroner's report, which determines the manner of death, and a pathology report, which determines the cause of death.

Is a pathologist an oncologist? ›

Oncologists and pathologists both specialize in diagnosing cancer. Oncologists, however, also treat it while pathologists also diagnose diseases other than cancer. A patient who has cancer may have an oncologist and a pathologist, but may never meet the pathologist who initially diagnosed the disease.

Is it hard to become a pathologist? ›

Pathologists require extensive education and training, comprised of four years of college, four years of medical school, and three to four years in a pathology residency program. The majority of pathologists will pursue additional training with a one- to two-year fellowship in a pathology subspecialty.

What type of pathologist makes the most money? ›

Cytopathology * Listed among the most in-demand pathological careers, cytopathologists can make in the higher spectrum of the annual salary range of all pathologist subspecialties, with an average annual base pay of about $108,000.

What is the difference between a pathologist and a medical scientist? ›

A medical laboratory scientist performs routine tests to identify abnormalities in the body's functions. They analyze blood, urine and tissue samples to determine a patient's disease or infection. A pathologist interprets the results of these tests and determines the proper course of treatment for the patient.

Do pathologists study medicine? ›

Pathologists are at the interface of science and medicine and prevent, diagnose and treat disease by examining body fluids and tissue samples. This identification of the disease process informs all patient care.

Is pathologist a hard job? ›

So, is pathology hard? Pathology involves a ton of studying. For that reason, coupled with the fact it involves a lot of lab and microscope work, it can be hard. You need to develop a good eye for detail and understanding of cases to do well.

Do pathologists earn well? ›

A mid-career Pathologist with 4-9 years of experience earns an average salary of ₹10.6 Lakhs per year, while an experienced Pathologist with 10-20 years of experience earns an average salary of ₹15 Lakhs per year.

What is the highest paid doctor? ›

According to the latest statistics, physicians working in the orthopedics specialty are the highest earning doctors in the US, with an average annual income of US$511K.

Do pathologists make mistakes? ›

The reported frequency of anatomic pathologic errors ranges from 1% to 43% of all specimens, regardless of origin and disease, he said. The error rate for oncology is 1% to 5%.

What does a pathologist do on a daily basis? ›

A pathologist is a physician who studies body fluids and tissues, helps your primary care doctor make a diagnosis about your health or any medical problems you have, and uses laboratory tests to monitor the health of patients with chronic conditions.

What type of pathologist gets paid the most? ›

Cytopathology * Listed among the most in-demand pathological careers, cytopathologists can make in the higher spectrum of the annual salary range of all pathologist subspecialties, with an average annual base pay of about $108,000.

Do you need math to be a pathologist? ›

Advanced science courses, such as biology, chemistry, and physics are necessary, as are math courses (such as algebra, geometry, and calculus). These classes will provide an introduction to basic science and math concepts and allow you to determine your aptitude in these areas.

Are pathologists in demand? ›

Practice leaders anticipated continued strong demand for hiring pathologists during the next 3 years.

How many hours do pathologists work a day? ›

At some places, pathologists work 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and have a lot of downtime while there. Whereas, some other places, they work 50–70 hours a week like I do.

Is there a shortage of pathologists? ›

There is a perceived shortage of pathologist manpower in America. To date, reflex solutions to this shortage have revolved around increasing the pool of pathologists by expanding the capacity of pathology residency training programs.


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3. Follow your interest in forensics: Pathology
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4. What qualifications do you NEED to be a Pathologist Assistant?
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5. How To Become A Pathologist
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6. What Does a Forensic Pathologist Do?
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