Specialty Overview

What is a pathologist?

A pathologist deals with the causes and nature of disease and contributes to diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment through knowledge gained by the laboratory application of the biologic, chemical, and physical sciences. This specialist uses information gathered from the microscopic examination of tissue specimens, cells and body fluids, and from clinical laboratory tests on body fluids and secretions for the diagnosis, exclusion, and monitoring of disease.

How to become a pathologist?

To acknowledge the diverse activities in the practice of Pathology and to accommodate the interests of individuals wanting to enter the field, the American Board of Pathology offers primary certification through the following three routes: combined Anatomic Pathology and Clinical Pathology, Anatomic Pathology only and Clinical Pathology only. A variety of subspecialty certificates are offered. Primary certification in Anatomic Pathology or Clinical Pathology may be combined with some of the subspecialty certifications.

Specialty training required prior to certification: Four to six years depending on primary certification area

What does a pathologist do?

Pathology is the medical specialty that studies the causes, processes, development, and consequences of disease and disease therapies. Pathology impacts virtually every other specialty of medicine. It incorporates the latest laboratory medicine technology to provide information that serves as the foundation for medical diagnosis, patient treatment and research.

Within the spectrum of pathology, people often refer to two broad categories, anatomic and clinical pathology:

  • Anatomic pathology is concerned with the diagnosis of disease based on the gross, microscopic, chemical, immunologic and molecular examination of organs, tissues and whole bodies. Some of the subspecialties in anatomic pathology include breast pathology, dermatopathology, gastrointestinal pathology, genitourinary pathology, gynecologic pathology, hematopathology and pulmonary pathology. Some of the methods used in anatomic pathology are surgical pathology, cytopathology and molecular pathology.

  • Clinical pathology is concerned with the diagnosis of disease based on the laboratory analysis of bodily fluids (such as blood and urine) and tissues using the tools of chemistry, microbiology, hematology and molecular pathology. Clinical pathology in its laboratory setting covers hematology, clinical chemistry (including toxicology), microbiology (including immunology) and the blood bank (transfusion medicine).

Pathologists hold a central position on the patient care team—not only do they provide and interpret laboratory information to help solve diagnostic problems, but their diagnoses form the foundation for effective therapy. With the development of new, highly complex tests, clinicians rely on pathologists for guidance and direction on which laboratory tests to perform and what treatments would be most effective based on the laboratory results. Pathologists stand ready to play an even more critical role in the emerging world of personalized medicine.

Work in the field of pathology is varied, challenging and quite rewarding. Over the course of a single day, a pathologist can impact nearly all aspects of medicine—from prevention and primary care to cancer and chronic disease. Since pathology touches all of medicine, pathologists work with clinicians in all areas. Their skill sets combine clinical training and laboratory expertise to equip them to consult with physicians from all specialties as well as a broad range of patients. Pathologists aren’t just “holed up” in the laboratory; they’re constantly communicating with one another and other physicians, patients, laboratory personnel and individuals in the hospital and community as they work to solve diagnostic problems.

Pathologists practice in a variety of urban and rural settings (such as private laboratories, hospitals, academic centers and multispecialty practices) within a wide scope of subspecialties and different career paths. Their practices vary in size from solo practices to large multinational companies, with about 60 percent in smaller practices of fewer than 10 pathologists who influence the care of thousands of patients.

How much do pathologists make?

According to the American Society for Clinical Pathology Fellowship & Job Market Surveys, The range of $150,000 to $200,000/year was the most frequent salary range reported.

Related Training

Association

College of American Pathologists
325 Waukegan Road
Northfield, IL 60093
(800) 323-4040
cap.org

American Society for Clinical Pathology
33 W. Monroe St., Suite 1600
Chicago, IL 60640
(800) 267-2727
ascp.org