Pathologist Job Description
Mostly working in hospitals and medical centers, pathologists use laboratory tools to run tests to check specimens for the presence of disease and also perform research work. Although they do not treat patients directly, they assist physicians with diagnoses and treatment plans. In addition to analytical and research skills, this career requires extensive education to become a licensed medical doctor with specialized training in pathology. Unlike some doctors, pathologists can find more flexible work that does not require them to work on-call and have more regular working hours. Some also find part-time work traveling to hospitals that need them on a per-day basis.
Pathologist Duties and Responsibilities
While a pathologist’s day-to-day duties and responsibilities are determined by where they work, there are many core tasks associated with the role. Based on our analysis of job listings, these include:
Analyze and Test Samples
Using microscopes and other testing tools, pathologists analyze samples of blood, urine, tissue, and other bodily specimens and run tests. They use their understanding of diseases to look for abnormalities in samples that could indicate the patient has a blood disorder, cancer, or other condition.
Ensure Accurate Test Results
To prevent accuracy issues, pathologists first calibrate testing equipment to ensure it performs within standards. When running tests, they also use checklists, medical software, and retests to get thorough and precise results.
Using information gathered through tests and analyses, pathologists determine the most likely disease diagnosis and communicate this to the patient’s physician. They also may suggest potential treatment options.
Usually using electronic medical record software, pathologists write thorough pathology reports describing the specimens tested, results of all tests, and the diagnosis.
Pathologists conduct regular research to stay current with ways to identify and treat diseases. They can use their findings to make new tests and develop treatment options.
Pathologist Skills and Qualifications
Successful pathologists not only have extensive medical knowledge of diseases but are also skilled analysts and medical researchers. Along with a medical doctor degree, active medical license, and certification in pathology, employers desire these skills for pathologists:
- Specimen analysis – pathologists properly use lab equipment to look at samples and perform tests to accurately analyze bodily fluids and tissue specimens
- Familiarity with diseases – they have a thorough understanding of diseases within their specialty and how they present themselves in the body
- Research skills – performing research using electronic databases and medical literature allows pathologists to improve testing methods and find new treatments
- Attention to detail – to give accurate test results and diagnoses, pathologists need an eye for small details to avoid mixing up samples or performing incorrect calculations
- Communication skills – pathologists have strong oral and written communication skills to convey their findings clearly to physicians and write detailed technical reports
Tools of the Trade
While working in the laboratory, pathologists use these tools:
- Lab testing equipment (microscopes, slides, test tubes, flow cytometers)
- Medical data management software (MEDITECH Anatomical Pathology, PathLogix, Aspyra CyberLAB)
- Safety equipment (gloves, safety goggles, gown)
Pathologist Education and Training
Like other medical specialists, pathologists need to hold a Doctor of Medicine degree, complete a residency, and obtain a medical license. They first complete a bachelor’s degree program that includes the prerequisite science, math, and English coursework needed for medical school admission. To qualify to apply for medical school, aspiring pathologists take the Medical College Admission Test. Once accepted into a medical school program, students complete a combination of medical classes and laboratory work for their first two years and perform clinical rotations at a medical facility for the last two years of the program.
Medical school graduates continue with a pathology residency program that lasts for around four years. After finishing the residency, they earn certification from the American Board of Pathology and take their state’s medical licensing exam to qualify to work as a pathologist.
Pathologist Salary and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places pathologists in a group with other physicians and surgeons it does not list separately. It lists a median annual salary of $208,000 for these physicians. Pathologists in the 10th percentile make around $60,000, and the best-paid make over $208,000 a year. Common benefits employers offer pathologists include paid vacation and training, annual bonuses, retirement plans, and insurance benefits.
Physicians and surgeons are expected to see above-average job growth of 13 percent through 2026. As people age and need medical tests and treatments, medical facilities will hire more doctors to provide care. Pathologists may have the best prospects if they practice in rural areas that have physician shortages.
Ready to begin your career as a pathologist? Here is a list of resources to learn more about the job and how to get started.
College of American Pathologists – pathologists can join this professional organization to access professional learning courses, network with peers, learn about current developments, and serve as advocates in the field.
On Becoming a Doctor: Everything You Need to Know About Medical School, Residency, Specialization, and Practice – Tania Heller’s medical career guide walks readers through the medical school application process and offers advice on how to choose a specialty and residency program. It also includes interviews with working doctors.
The American Board of Pathology – this organization certifies pathologists and includes information and resources about specialty training, residency, licensing, and examination.
Oxford Handbook of Clinical Pathology – this guide provides medical students and residents with information and images of pathogens throughout the body. It organizes the material into sections by location in the body to serve as a quick reference.
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