How do I get Started in a Pathology Career?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2019
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Pathologists are medical doctors who specialize in finding and diagnosing diseases. They commonly perform biopsies and autopsies, studying tissue and blood samples to discover the identities of certain diseases. A person who wishes to get started in a pathology career must receive a doctoral degree from an accredited medical school, assume residency at a hospital or other medical clinic, and pass a written and practical licensing exam.

A high school student who wishes to pursue a pathology career can prepare for college by taking advanced science courses, such as biology, physiology, anatomy, and chemistry. These classes introduce a student to the scientific research principles, medical terminology, and laboratory techniques he or she will use in college and in a pathology career. Many students talk to guidance counselors and laboratory personnel to learn more about the pathology field and different career opportunities.

Prospective pathologists typically enroll in four year bachelor's degree programs, where they major in premedical studies or biology. Through classroom and laboratory instruction, undergraduates gain advanced knowledge of the human body and the nature of diseases. When graduation approaches, students wishing to continue their education usually take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and begin applying to medical schools.


There is generally strong competition for medical school admissions. Accredited schools usually select a relatively few number of new students out of a large pool of applicants. People with the strongest educational records, MCAT scores, references, and letters of interest are usually selected. Once admitted, a student will typically meet with members of the pathology department to discuss his or her degree plan and goals for an eventual pathology career.

In medical school, a future pathologist gains valuable practical and classroom training relating to the field. They spend several hours in clinical laboratories, gaining hands-on experience with equipment such as microscopes, dissecting tools, and slide stainers. Many medical students take very specialized courses in pathology, such as neuropathology and hematology. A medical school program may take up to five years to complete, and culminates in a doctor of medicine degree.

After obtaining a degree, a graduate usually enrolls in a residency program at a hospital. A resident works alongside trained pathologists, gaining real world experience and mastering the skills needed for his or her pathology career. After three to four years, a resident can take a certification test offered by a nationally recognized organization. In the United States, the American Board of Pathology offers a practical and written exam to certify new doctors and allow them to begin working independently.



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