Pathologist: Educational Requirements and Career Summary

Pathologists are physicians who diagnose and study diseases. They have significant educational requirements that include completing medical school, residencies and possibly fellowships. These programs require both classroom coursework and hands-on training. Pathologists must be precise, knowledgeable in science and able to work under pressure.

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Educational Requirements for Pathologists

Undergraduate Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), although a minimum of three years of undergraduate study is required for medical school admittance, most applicants have earned bachelor's degrees (www.bls.gov). Since certain science courses are required for medical school admission, pre-medical students may consider pre-medicine programs and science majors; however, any major is acceptable. Required science courses and labs include biology, chemistry and physics. Students may consider volunteering at hospitals or shadowing physicians to gain practical experience.

Medical School

The first two years of a medical program include foundational coursework in the sciences, providing instruction in bodily systems and major diseases, while the final two years are devoted to clinical rotations in different areas of medicine. Pathology isn't a required rotation but may be taken as an elective. To find a medical school, students may consult the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), which lists 135-accredited U.S. medical programs as of July 2011 (www.lcme.org). According to the LCME, residency programs and most state licensing boards require degrees from accredited programs. Upon graduating from medical school, physicians must earn licensure by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX).

Pathology Residency

Pathology residencies,which typically last four years, include training in anatomic and/or clinical pathology, providing instruction in autopsy, image analysis, cytogenetics, molecular diagnostics and protein biochemistry. Residents are also given opportunities to take electives and participate in research. As they advance, they are given more freedom and responsibility when conducting tests and making decisions. Residents are given stipends that typically increase with each year in their programs and are given other benefits, such as health insurance. Individuals may use the American Council for Graduate Medical Education to find accredited residencies and fellowships.

Fellowships

Pathologists who wish to specialize in areas such as dermopathology, surgical pathology or pediatric pathology need to complete a fellowship. These programs last a year or two and provide more narrowly focused training than do residencies. Fellows have opportunities to perform research tailored to their career interests. Some fellowships, such as surgical pathology, may include rotations in different areas, such as gastrointestinal, breast, soft tissue and gynecologic pathology.

Career Information for Pathologists

Pathologists are physicians who examine tissues and other samples from patients and dead bodies to diagnose medical conditions and causes of death. They perform tests in laboratories, which may include urine analyses, microbial tests or hormonal assays. Once a pathologist has reached a conclusion, they communicate their findings to other medical staff members and may make treatment recommendations. Pathologists apply the concepts of gross pathology, cytology, immunology and other science disciplines to their work.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

The BLS reported that the average annual salary of physicians and surgeons, including pathologists, was $184,820 as of May 2012. The BLS also stated that overall employment for physicians and surgeons was expected to increase 24% from 2010-2020. Major factors influencing employment growth were the growing number of elderly citizens and an emphasis on improved medical care.

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