Interested in studying diseases and learning exactly how to diagnose them? Read on to learn more about how to become a pathologist.
Often considered the invisible forces working behind the scenes to find the perfect treatment for patients, pathologists are vital parts of all healthcare systems. These professionals analyze tissue, blood, organ, and fluid samples to diagnose and study disease.
If this career sounds perfect for you, this guide will cover the steps required to become a pathologist. We’ll go over what the job entails, the different types of pathology you can pursue, and more!
Now that you know exactly how to become a pathologist and how long it’ll take, your next question might be, “what does a pathologist do?”
While the main responsibilities of a pathologist include analyzing bodily fluids and tissue for disease, their more specific duties depend on the type of pathology they specialize in.
Anatomical pathologists perform the following duties:
Anatomical pathologists are responsible for not only diagnosing diseases but also studying their effects on the body.
On the other hand, common procedures clinical pathologists perform are:
Clinical pathologists generally conduct tests to confirm or deny physicians’ suspicions.
Since there are so many different applications of pathology, there are several subspecialties pathologists can pursue:
Depending on your interests, you can obtain specialized certifications in any of these subspecialties through ABP.
Considering a career as a pathologist? Below is the detailed path to becoming a pathologist.
Here are the steps to becoming a pathologist:
The first step to becoming a pathologist is an undergraduate degree from an accredited university. This is a prerequisite for step three, which is going to medical school. Most medical schools have no preference over the undergraduate major you pursue but may ask you to have certain science prerequisites.
Ensure you maintain a high GPA during your undergrad to be considered a competitive med school applicant! You should also seek various extracurricular, work, and volunteer experiences to increase your chances of getting into your top medical schools.
Most medical schools will require you to write the MCAT as part of the admissions process. Aim to write your first MCAT in the summer after your sophomore or junior year to ensure you meet your application deadlines. You should build a comprehensive study schedule to achieve your target score and ace the exam!
As we mentioned, pathologists are doctors, which means they must complete medical school. Aspiring pathologists may complete either a D.O. or M.D. to fulfill this requirement.
Regardless of which type of medical degree you opt for, you’ll want to maintain high grades and build strong connections to get into a good residency!
Once you’ve completed medical school, you’ll have to pass the USMLE or COMLEX exams, depending on your medical degree. These exams will give you medical licensure to begin practicing as a doctor!
The final step before you can officially become a pathologist is to complete a three or four-year pathology residency. You can choose to complete a three-year residency in either anatomical or clinical pathology. Anatomical pathology involves the analysis of organs and tissue, whereas clinical pathology involves the analysis of blood and fluids.
If you’re interested in both types of pathology, you can alternatively complete a residency that combines these fields. This type of residency takes at least four years to complete.
Your MCAT, USMLE, or COMLEX aren’t the only exams you’ll need to worry about during your journey to becoming a pathologist.
The final exams you’ll have to pass are administered by the American Board of Pathology (ABP).
You’ll have to pass a written and practical exam to gain accreditation. You must also participate in ABP’s Continuing Certification (CC) program throughout your career. This program ensures pathologists are committed to lifelong learning and keep up-to-date with all medical standards.
Pathologists require a range of key skills to excel in their profession. Here are some essential skills for pathologists:
Developing and refining these key skills is crucial for pathologists to provide accurate diagnoses and contribute to patient care.
While joining this profession is a lengthy, challenging, and expensive process, pathologists are well-compensated for their hard work!
The median salary for pathologists is $239,200 a year, with those working in diagnostic or medical laboratories earning $291,350 a year on average.
Not only is this career high-paying, but it’s also in high demand! Employment in this field is expected to increase by about 9.2% within the next decade.
For those eager to join this field as easily and quickly as possible, you may want to consider working in a physician's office. These offices tend to have significantly more job openings each year than any other pathology setting. These types of pathologists also make the second-highest median income, at around $265,760 a year.
Here is a table with the average annual salaries for pathologists by state.
We’ve covered the basics of how to become a pathologist. But, in case you have any remaining questions, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this profession!
It will take 10 to 11 years at minimum to become a pathologist: four years to complete your undergrad, three years to complete your MD or DO, and at least three or four years to complete your desired pathology residency. Gaining additional certifications and passing your ABP exams may increase this timeline.
Yes, the road to becoming a pathologist will be long and bumpy. You must be diligent, focused, and determined to get past the various milestones in this journey.
Getting into medical school is difficult and highly competitive, pathology residencies are even more coveted, and landing a career in this field will also require hard work and strong connections!
Yes, pathologists must attend medical school, pass their medical licensing exam, and complete a residency to practice.
There is no specific major you must pursue to become a pathologist. However, most medical schools have several science prerequisites, and most medical students pursue science-related degrees.
But, as long as you complete your prerequisites, you can major in any degree! Choose one you have a genuine passion for to increase your chances of maintaining a high GPA.
Yes, pathologists get paid extremely well. The median salary for pathologists is well over $200,000 a year! Many pathologists make much more than this, depending on their specialty.
California offers the most opportunity and pay for pathologists. Pathologists in this state have the highest employment rate and make $258,090 a year on average!
Being a pathologist can be a challenging career. Pathologists are responsible for accurately diagnosing diseases by analyzing tissues, cells, and body fluids, a task that demands meticulous attention to detail and sharp analytical skills. The workload can be substantial.
Additionally, pathologists must navigate the emotional challenges of delivering diagnoses and prognoses to patients and their families.
However, despite the difficulties, being a pathologist can significantly impact patient care, contribute to medical research, and engage in a rewarding and intellectually stimulating career.
Here is the pathologist training and education:
Further specialization can be pursued through fellowship programs, which typically last one to two years and allow pathologists to gain expertise in specific subspecialties.
These academic qualifications for pathologists will prepare aspiring physicians for this exciting field of medicine.
Pathologists may not receive the same spotlight as physicians and surgeons that work directly with patients. Still, they are equally important in providing patients with the best and most accurate care!
If you embark upon the extensive journey of becoming a pathologist, rest assured your hard work will result in a highly rewarding career!