What you need to know
Pathologists are physicians who specialize in the study of body tissue to see if it is normal or abnormal. They identify diseases by examining cells and tissues under a microscope.
Many pathologists work long, irregular, and overnight hours. Obstetricians and gynecologists may travel between their offices and hospitals to care for their patients. While on call, they may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to a hospital or nursing home.
Some of the things a pathologist might do:
- Work with other physicians to help reach a diagnosis for their patients
- Use a microscope in a laboratory to study biopsies and other tissue
- Perform autopsies to discover the cause of death
- Review test results to identify any abnormal findings
- Prepare reports based on laboratory findings
- Communication skills: Pathologists need to be excellent communicators. They must communicate effectively with physicians and other healthcare support staff.
- Detail oriented: Patients must receive appropriate treatment and medications. Pathologists must accurately monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.
- Dexterity: Pathologists may work with very precise and sometimes sharp tools, and mistakes can have serious consequences.
- Leadership skills: Pathologists who work in their own practice must manage a staff of other professionals.
- Organizational skills: Good recordkeeping and other organizational skills are critical in both medical and business settings.
- Patience. Pathologists may work for long periods on a diagnosis
- Physical stamina: For autopsies, pathologists should be comfortable lifting or turning their subjects, or performing other physical tasks.
- Problem-solving skills: Pathologists need to evaluate many factors to reach a diagnosis. They need to do this quickly if a patient’s life is threatened.
The average pay for pathologists in the United States is approximately $316,000 according to an annual Medscape survey in 2020.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Overall employment of all physicians and surgeons, including pathologists, is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Prospects should be especially good for gastroenterologists who are willing to practice in rural and low-income areas because these areas tend to have difficulty attracting physicians.
Pathologists typically need a bachelor’s degree, a degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete, and, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.
Medical schools are highly competitive. Most applicants must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation. Schools also consider an applicant’s personality, leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities. Most schools require applicants to interview with members of the admissions committee.
Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and in the laws governing medicine. They also gain practical skills; learning to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.
During their last 2 years, medical students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics. Through rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery, they gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of areas.