Last Updated: 03/17/15
Pathologists are physicians that are specially trained in the investigational techniques needed to diagnose and treat a wide range of disease by figuring out the causes of disease and the nature of its progression. These specialists perform various biological, physical and chemical science experiments and analysis of microscopic specimen tissue, bodily fluids and cells. Like many other physician specialties, you can choose to sub-specialized in several different kind of pathology, which include: blood banking/transfusion medicine, chemical pathology, cytopathology, dermatopathology, forensic pathology, hematology, medical microbiology, molecular genetic pathology, neuropathology and pediatric pathology. Some of the things a pathologist might do on any given day include:
- Consulting with physicians to order tests and the interpretation of the results
- Writing up pathology reports that summarize the results, analysis and conclusions.
- Conducting genetic analysis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in order to diagnose biopsies and cell samples
- Diagnosing infections like AIDS and Hepatitis B by testing for antibodies that are made in the body to fight off infections
- Performing biopsies and fine need aspirations (FNAs) of superficial nodules
- Performing autopsies to determine the cause of death
- Testifying in depositions as an expert witness
As a pathologist, you can choose to work in hospitals, labs, wards, private practices offices, or in research institutions in the lab or teaching. Most pathologists are able to work regular 40 hour weeks, and while many pathologists work in rotating shifts they still have more free time than most other physician specialties. Pathologists act as part of a patient’s medical team in many instances. Because of this, pathologists must attend patient meetings in order to share their findings regarding the diagnoses and its progression with the other physicians who are also working with that patient.
While the work is interesting, pathologists reported being less happy than the average physician in a recent 2012 physician lifestyle survey conducted by Medscape. Pathologists rated their happiness with an average score of 3.93, on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the happiest. They ranked 15th out of 25 physician specialties.
In order to become a medical pathologist, you must complete four years of medical school followed by a 3 to 4 year rigorous residency program in pathology. How long your program is depends on what area you want your training in. For just clinical or anatomic pathology it will be three years and if you wanted a combined training of both it will be four years. If you choose to sub-specilize in one of the areas mentioned earlier, you’ll need to also complete an additional year of fellowship training or two years if you want to go into neuropathology. You will then also have to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and become certified by the American Board of Pathology.
According to a 2010 physician compensation survey published in Modern Healthcare, the annual salary for pathologists ranges between $239,000 and $331,800. Salary.com reports the median expected salary for pathologists to be approximately $249,188.
The employment outlook for medical professionals in any specialty is very good and there is expected to be a boom in the demand for physicians and surgeons. This expected boom is also true for pathologists as they are highly trained and continually improving their skills and abilities to be used in a broader range of ways. Competition tends to be more apparent when looking for professor jobs, but there is almost always opportunities available in hospital and research university labs.