Are you interested in medical mysteries? Solving them is the work of medical pathologists. A pathologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with laboratory medicine. Though they rarely have direct patient contact, pathologists are important members of the medical team when it comes to determining the cause of disease. The salary of a pathologist averages $192,920.
What's a pathologist? You might hear a pathologist described as a "doctor's doctor" because they work primarily with physicians and not directly with patients. Pathologists evaluate tissue and fluid samples taken from patients under the supervision of a medical doctor or other healthcare professional. They detect the presence of disease and any substances, including chemical substances, in the body. They often serve in a management function, directing all special divisions of a laboratory including the blood bank, toxicology, immunology, microbiology and clinical chemistry. They may also be involved in the maintenance of records, information systems and quality control.
Some pathologists specialize further within their field, opening the door to a variety of pathology careers. Anatomic pathologists study tissues, organs and tumors. Cytopathologists study cells and everything related to them. Molecular pathologists are concerned with the study of DNA and genetics. Forensic pathologists perform autopsies, especially in cases where death occurred under unusual or traumatic circumstances.
To become a pathologist, you first need to earn a medical degree from an accredited medical or osteopathic school. Each of these is four years of rigorous study beyond the bachelor's degree. There is not a formal requirement for an undergraduate major, but successful applicants must have a solid foundation in life sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, psychology and communications. Medical school admissions are very competitive. Most schools seek candidates who have earned an undergraduate grade point average of at least 3.61 and a score of 510 or better on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Requirements are essentially the same for osteopathic school, although some schools may accept scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) instead of the MCAT.
After finishing medical school, you'll need to pass a state licensing exam to work as a physician. From there, it's a four year residency in pathology, which consists of advanced lecture courses and supervised laboratory practice.
Although certification by the American Board of Pathology (ABP) is not a licensing requirement, it is a desirable credential to earn. Certification attests to a practitioner's expertise and commitment to the field. It may even be a requirement by some employers. Pathologists earn certification by examination and maintain their status by participating in professional development courses offered through the ABP, the American Medical Association, medical schools and university-based medical centers.
Pathologists work primarily in laboratories, located in hospitals, clinics, medical centers and private industry. Some work for government agencies, while others are employed by medical schools to provide instruction. They use microscopes, computer-aided diagnostic instruments and other specialized equipment to evaluate their samples. Because pathologists generally do not see patients, they can maintain a regular work schedule that seldom includes emergencies. Depending on the employer, a pathologist may work evenings, nights or weekends.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks data on civilian occupation, the job outlook for physicians and surgeons will remain strong, with a predicted job growth rate of 13 percent through 2026. The average salary for pathologist is $192,920 per year, although employer, geographic location, experience and other factors can account for variance. Pathologists are almost always salaried employees. For those working part-time or on a contract basis, the reported average pathologist hourly wage is $34.49.
There is no single highest paid pathology specialty because of the multiple factors that affect wages. However, pathologists who are self-employed tend to earn more than those who work for others.