Pathologists are medical professionals who specialize in the diagnosis of disease based on examination of tissue samples and bodily fluids. They perform autopsies as well as lab tests to identify the type and cause of various illnesses.
The job of a pathologist can be challenging due to the amount of responsibility they carry. Pathologists not only provide their expertise to determine what is actually wrong with their patients, but also lay out a treatment plan based on their findings. As such, it’s important for them to maintain strict confidentiality, work well under pressure, and be detail-oriented so they can properly diagnose their patients.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a pathologist and what it takes to become one yourself.
Pathologist Job Duties
Pathologists perform a wide range of duties, including:
- Examining tissue specimens using microscopes and analyzing their findings by comparing them to standard diagnostic protocols
- Interviewing patients and reviewing their medical records, in order to develop a diagnosis or determine treatment options for disease or illness
- Conducting autopsies in cases where patient deaths are suspicious or unusual
- Reviewing clinical test results for accuracy and helping to determine proper course of action based on findings
- Interpreting medical images such as CT scans, ultrasound images, MRI scans, x-rays, blood tests, electrocardiograms (EKGs), or genetic tests
- Preparing reports detailing findings and conclusions reached during examinations
- Communicating with patients about test findings by explaining their significance in everyday language that patients can understand
Pathologist Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for pathologists is $199,262. The highest earners make over $347,000 per year.
The demand for pathologists is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade. As the population grows and ages, there will be a greater need for medical tests and procedures to diagnose and treat cancers and other diseases. Pathologists perform the bulk of these tests and procedures.
Pathologist Job Requirements
The training, education, and certification requirements for pathologists are as follows:
Education: Pathologists are required to have a doctorate degree, which typically requires seven to eight years of education. Most pathologists have a doctoral degree in medical pathology or surgical pathology. They may also have a doctoral degree in a related field, such as microbiology, biochemistry, or cell biology.
Training: During their doctorate program, pathologists are required to complete an internship at a healthcare facility. This internship allows them to gain valuable experience in the field.
Certifications & Licenses: All pathologists must obtain a license to work in the field. The licensure process varies from state to state and requires candidates to pass an exam. Some states also require candidates to complete continuing education courses and pay a fee.
The American Board of Pathology, the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics, and the ASCP Board of Certification (BOC) are some examples of organizations that offer certifications in this field.
The following skills are required for the job of a pathologist:
Critical thinking: Pathologists must have the ability to use critical thinking skills to analyze complex medical issues.
Problem-solving skills: A pathologist must be able to solve problems when difficult situations arise.
Good memory: Pathology is a highly technical field that requires an excellent memory and the ability to recall medical knowledge and apply it to patient cases.
Physical strength: Some pathologists must perform autopsies for several hours while standing, and may need to lift bodies which can be physically demanding.
Manual dexterity: Pathologists must be able to work with small tools and equipment while wearing gloves. They also need to be good at handling sharp instruments.
Computer skills: The use of computers is widespread in pathology labs today, so you will need strong computer skills in order to work efficiently.
Organizational skills: Working in a lab setting requires the ability to organize materials and prioritize tasks.
Pathologist Work Environment
A pathologist’s work environment can be very stimulating. Most laboratories are clean, quiet, and well-lit. Pathologists usually wear protective clothing while working with tissue samples or other specimens. When they examine the results of lab tests, they may need to stand for long periods of time. Some people find this type of work unpleasant because it requires dealing with diseases and bodily fluids.
Pathologist Career Advancement
Once you have a few years of experience as a pathologist, you may want to move into a role as a medical director or laboratory director. As a medical director, you’ll provide guidance and direction for pathology lab leaders and help ensure the highest quality medical care is provided to patients.
As a laboratory director, you’ll supervise all operations and make sure the facility is operating according to state and federal laws. You’ll also need to manage budgets and lead employees in the day-to-day operations of the lab.
Another option is to pursue a fellowship in a specialized field such as anatomic pathology, cytopathology, hematology, immunology, microbiology, molecular pathology, or toxicology. A fellowship grants you advanced training in your chosen specialty, while helping you obtain more clinical experience and obtain board certification.
Here are three trends influencing how Pathologists work. Pathologists will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Increasing Focus on Digital Technologies
Due to the increasing number of medical studies that use digital technologies, pathologists Increasingly need stronger technological skills.
The continued development of advanced diagnostic technology has also increased the need for pathologists who can interpret results and make informed decisions about patient care.
Currently, automated processes like immunohistochemistry (IHC) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) are increasingly common in medical testing labs. These methods allow more tests to be performed with greater accuracy and efficiency than ever before, but they also require trained professionals to interpret test results and make treatment recommendations based on what they find.
Biomarkers as New Diagnostic Tools
New technologies, such as the use of biomarkers, are transforming the diagnostic process for pathologists.
Biomarkers can be used to detect disease early on or to assess how a patient’s body is responding to treatment. For example, a recent study found that a blood test could accurately identify patients with breast cancer and monitor their responses to therapy without exposing them to invasive biopsies.
Growing Focus on Preventative Medicine
As the average life expectancy of individuals continues to increase, preventive medicine is becoming increasingly important for many professions in the medical field.
Pathologists are often responsible for the detection and diagnosis of diseases, which can lead to early intervention that prevents or delays serious illness or injury. The ability to offer preventative care services is an essential skill for future pathologists, who will need to remain abreast of new treatments and technology in order to make accurate diagnoses while also considering prevention options for patients.
How to Become a Pathologist
1. Planning Your Career Path
When considering a career as a pathologist, it is important to determine what type of medical field you want to work in. There are several specialties within pathology, including anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, and forensic pathology. It’s also helpful to consider your schedule preferences; many jobs in this field require long hours on-call or on-site at hospitals. The profession requires many hours of studying and research, so those who want to become pathologists should be prepared to devote most of their time to their education.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for pathologists will highlight their medical education, their experience, and their ability to communicate effectively.
In addition to highlighting your transferable skills, you should also state the specific tools and laboratory equipment that you are proficient at using.
Pathologist resumes should include all the details about their education and academic achievements including board certifications, professional memberships, and publications. To show your commitment to continued education and development, it’s useful to include all relevant training courses you’ve attended.
It’s also worth highlighting any research experience that has been beneficial for developing a deeper understanding of a particular medical issue.
3. Applying for Jobs
The most important thing you can do to find a job as a Pathologist is to be a member of the Pathology community. Attend events and join online networks that will connect you with current Pathologists and those looking to hire.
There are many professional organizations available, such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the American Society for Investigative Pathology, and the College of American Pathologists. Use them to connect with others and also to learn more about what you can expect from each employer.
4. Ace the Interview
When you’re interviewing for a position as a pathologist, the primary focus will be on your experience and knowledge. You should be well prepared to provide examples of your previous work and research.
You will probably be asked how you would handle certain situations that come up in the workplace. For example, how would you respond in a difficult conversation with a patient’s family member? Prepare answers to such questions in advance and practice them until they feel natural and comfortable.
As with any type of interview, you’ll want to dress professionally and show up to the interview on time. This is important because pathology candidates are often interviewed by a committee of professors, hospital administrators, and other faculty members, so every single member will play a part in deciding if you are hired or not.