What does a Pathologist do?

What is a Pathologist?

A pathologist is a physician in the medical field who studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.

A Pathologist could:

  • Examine kidney tissues of a patient under a microscope to determine if the patient is in need of a transplant.

  • Perform an autopsy to decide if the person died of homicide or natural causes. This information could be used to help solve a crime.

  • Look over the blood test of a pregnant woman to determine if the child she is carrying will be born in good health.

What does a Pathologist do?

Pathologists typically work in one of three main areas of discipline: as teachers, investigators, or diagnosticians. The ability to integrate clinical data with biochemical, molecular, and physiological laboratory studies is fundamental to the work performed on a daily basis.

Individuals who work in the academic field impart their knowledge to medical students, medical colleagues, and other trainees at various levels. Investigators in the field of pathology use laboratory science for disease models, clinical studies, and other experimental programs to further advance the field knowledge, understanding, and treatment options for various diseases. This information is used to both treat and diagnose patients more aggressively in the future. Professionals who work in clinical laboratories or medical settings practice as consulting physicians who develop and apply their knowledge of laboratory and tissue analysis in order to diagnose and treat disease in patients.

It's important to note that professionals who work in the medical industry may also work with patients in the postmortem phase. Research with these patients is used to study disease, or determine if a death was a homicide or from natural causes.

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How to become a Pathologist

Advanced training is necessary to become a professional in this field. During the undergraduate years, it's important to major in a biological field such as chemistry, science, or pre-medical studies. Individuals who only obtain an undergraduate level degree may be able to find employment as laboratory technologists, but the opportunities for growth are limited. Individuals who have earned a masters level degree in animal or plant pathology, biochemistry, microbiology, or another related field may qualify for an applied research or teaching position within the pathology field.

For individuals who want to work with plant disease a doctoral degree in plant pathology or another field of botany is required. For individuals who wish to work in the area of animal science, a doctoral degree in pathology or zoology, or a degree in veterinary medicine (D.V.M.) is essential. Students should expect to complete a four-year undergraduate degree along with an additional four years of advance level training to obtain these qualifications.

Medical professionals in the field will attend medical school for four years after completing their undergraduate degree program to obtain a doctor of medicine (M.D.). In some situations the person will spend six years in medical school and complete a doctoral degree in pathology along with their medical degree. Once the medical school program is complete, the student will spend roughly four more years working as a resident in a hospital pathology department for further training. A medical pathologist should expect to spend approximately 12 years meeting the educational requirements before they are considered fully qualified in the field. However, training is ongoing to stay abreast with advancements in the field.

What is the workplace of a Pathologist like?

Most professionals in the field can expect to spend a great deal of time planning their research projects, researching the findings of other scientists, and attend meetings with other physicians. They should have the ability to take in a lot of information at one time and the patience to complete sometimes lengthy research projects. They need to be accurate and precise workers, this is especially true for professionals that work to diagnose disease when their findings are a critical component to the care the patient will receive. They will most often work alone, but excellent communication skills are essential to give evidence of their findings in writing or orally.

Because the field of pathology is so broad, the work conditions will vary greatly. However, pathologists most often work in hospitals, offices, classrooms, and laboratories. The typical professional in the field can expect to work a 40-hour work week, but depending on the industry in which they are employed, a work week greater than 40 hours may be expected. Working hours are varied and are often on a rotating shift.