How Do I Become a Surgical Pathologist?

A. Reed

A surgical pathologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing disease of tissue that has been removed during a surgical procedure, using several different methods of examination. These methods include microscopically, with the naked eye, and by using chemicals. To become a surgical pathologist, you must first complete medical school and obtain a license to practice medicine in the locale where you plan to work.

Surgical pathologists diagnose disease in tissue removed from the body during surgical procedures.
Surgical pathologists diagnose disease in tissue removed from the body during surgical procedures.

Surgical pathologists specialize in anatomical pathology, referred to as the study of tissues of the human body that are unhealthy, such as a tumor. They examine the tissue, which can be done while the patient is still on the surgical table, and provide a diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is given, the attending surgeon can make further decisions about whether to remove surrounding glands or other tissues. Many subspecialties exist in anatomical pathology, such as hepatopathology, which studies diseased liver tissues, and neuropathology, the study of brain tissue. As a surgical pathologist, you'll either examine tissue taken from a living person, or someone who has died.

Attending medical school is a requirement to practice medicine in every country in the world, with the programs differing by requirements for entry, structure, and duration. In the U.S. and Canada, for example, to apply to medical school, students must first complete a four-year undergraduate degree, including a variety of science courses, and take the Medical College Admissions Examination (MCAT). Medical school generally lasts four years, plus a residency. European medical schools last six years and students are admitted directly from high school. Several medical schools outside the U.S. do not require applicants to have MCAT scores.

Generally, the medical school curriculum begins with the study of basic sciences, like anatomy and biochemistry. The last years are spent rotating among the various areas of medicine. At the end of all of the studies, the medical doctor degree is conferred and the license is obtained through rigorous examination. Depending upon where you will practice, to become a surgical pathologist, some type of additional training for the specialty is required. U.S. doctors must complete a three- to four-year residency in anatomical pathology, plus two more years for a subspecialty. Doctors in the United Kingdom (UK) train for two to seven years.

Finally, after you have finished all of your medical training to become a surgical pathologist, you will be required to obtain certification in the specialty to be able to gain employment. Most countries have a process of certifying specialists in medicine. The American Board of Pathology is the organization responsible for certifying surgical pathologists in the United States, while pathologists in the UK are certified by the General Medical Council, approved by the Royal College of Pathologists. Canadian doctors become certified in anatomical pathology through the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

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