What is Pathology, and What Careers are Available in Pathology?

Find Out if You Might Enjoy a Pathology Career

pathologists analyzing samples in lab
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According to the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP), pathology is the medical specialty which "provides a scientific foundation for medical practice." Pathology entails the analysis and examination of human tissue, bone, and bodily fluids for abnormalities, or evidence of disease or infection. The field of pathology is critical to the accurate diagnosis of patients in a clinical setting, as well as to determine cause of death in the deceased.

Careers as a Pathologist

A pathologist is a physician (with an M.D. or D.O. medical degree) who leads the examination of the tissue and organ samples and coordinates or communicates with the primary care physician to ultimately determine a diagnosis of disease or cause of death.

There are many different types of pathologists. The least common type of pathologist, but most well-known, thanks to many true-crime TV shows and prime time crime dramas, is the forensic pathologist. The forensic pathologist works in conjunction with police and the coroner's office to solve homicides and mysterious deaths.

Not all pathologists work to solve crimes.

Others work in a lab, hospital, or morgue, to help confirm disease diagnoses and causes of illness or death. Another type of pathologist is the dermatopathologist, who analyze skin cell samples to diagnose skin cancers and other skin diseases and disorders.

There are also pathologists who specialize in blood analysis, and other subspecialties.

Becoming a pathologist entails one of the lengthiest education and training tracks of all physicians. Requirements include four years of undergraduate study, plus four years of medical school, plus a minimum of four to five years of post-graduate training in pathology residency.

According to the Intersociety Council for Pathology Information, Inc., there are nearly 18,000 actively practicing pathologists in the United States. The average age of retirement is 71 years old. Based on the current number of pathology residents-in-training, pathologist strength will fall by 2030 to 14,800.

Other Careers in Pathology

If you are not able to complete medical school due to time constraints or financial constraints, but are interested in the field of pathology, there are other career options in pathology such as:

  • Medical technologist
  • Forensic technician or mortuary assistant
  • Cytotechnologist
  • Medical Lab Technician

These additional careers require a bachelor's degree or less.

Job Outlook

There will be a shortage of pathologists in the next two decades, starting in 2015. Beginning in 2014, the number of retiring pathologists will increase, peaking by 2021. The number of graduating pathology residents will be less than the number of retiring pathologists per year. Anticipated population growth and increases in disease incidence will lead to a net deficit of more than 5,700 pathologists by 2030.

Pathology Maybe the Field for You If:

  • You enjoy anatomy and physiology. For example: as a kid, you played with a toy skeleton instead of a doll or action figure.
  • You prefer to work in a lab behind a microscope rather than interfacing with patients all day.
  • You enjoy solving mysteries or finding answers to the unknown.
  • You are drawn to the scientific, analytical, technical aspect of medicine.

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