Pathologist Career Featured
Career Clusters: Health Sciences

What you need to know

What is a pathologist?

Pathologists are physicians who specialize in the study of body tissue and fluids to see if it is normal or abnormal. They identify diseases in lab tests by examining cells and tissues under a microscope.

What does a pathologist do?

A pathologist helps other healthcare providers identify illnesses by performing lab tests. They provide pathology reports that outline the results they’ve found in their lab tests. 

A typical day for a pathologist might include these duties:

  • 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

Watch this video to learn more about what our pathology role models do:

What skills are needed?
  • 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.

Watch this video to learn more about what skills are needed to be a successful pathologist:

How much do pathologists make?

The average pay for pathologists in the United States was $239,200 in May 2023 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A pathologist’s pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.

What is the career outlook?

Employment of all physicians is projected to grow 3 percent from 2022 to 2032 in the United States according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is about as fast as the average growth rate for all occupations.

In 2022 there were about 12,320 pathologists in the United States.

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.

How to become a pathologist

You will need to complete the following schooling before becoming a pathologist:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • A degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete
  • At least 3 years in internship and residency programs

Some popular pre-med Bachelor’s Degrees are Biology, Chemistry, or Sociology. Once you’ve received your Bachelor’s Degree, you will need to apply to medical school to become a pediatrician.

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.

Medical school students spend the first 2 years 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. They do clinical rotations in all areas of medicine to gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of areas. Aspiring pathologists would spend more time in pathology to gain the experience needed to excel in their own careers. 

Watch this video to learn more about how to become a pathologist from our role models: