Are you interested in finding a lucrative career in a field such as botany, veterinary medicine or forensics? Pathology is a career choice that covers a wide range of fields and allows you to specialize in something that truly interests you and allows you to help others in the process.
This is the perfect career choice for someone who enjoys learning more about the diagnosis of diseases and viruses but who may prefer to work indirectly with patients. This comprehensive guide to pathology will teach you about the career, including pathologist salary, job outlook and the education required to enter the field.
What Is A Pathologist?
Simply put, a pathologist is a scientist who studies nature and the causes and effects of diseases as they relate to biology or medicine in plants and animals. However, the field is a broad one and although they have the same basic job, pathologists may work with humans, animals or plants, and may do so during life or after death, meaning their jobs vary greatly.
Most commonly, their employers include hospitals, universities, medical laboratories, or government offices related to agriculture or public health. Sometimes, private companies that create insecticides or medications employ pathologists as well.
How Does Someone Become A Pathologist?
Pathology is an advanced career that requires an advanced degree. Students who wish to go into the field should begin their undergraduate studies with premedical courses such as chemistry or biological science. Sometimes related fields are also acceptable, but it is important to talk to a career advisor before going an alternate route. Opportunities in the field are limited with an undergraduate degree, so most people who want to become pathologists go on to earn a master's degree. Common fields include biochemistry or microbiology.
The advanced degree usually opens teaching positions or applied research positions, but those who want to become fully qualified must earn a doctoral degree. Those who wish to work with plants will need a botany-related Ph.D., and those who want to work with animals will need one in zoology or veterinary medicine. Future medical pathologists will need to attend medical school and then complete a residency in a qualified hospital.
In total, qualified pathologists spend anywhere from six years to more than 12 years completing their education. The final step is to pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam and then to pass a certification administered by the American Board of Pathology. The certification will be in a specialization, with some options including blood banking and transfusion, medical microbiology or forensic pathology.
What Skills Does A Pathologist Need?
Becoming a pathologist requires an impressive number of both hard and soft skills, including those in communication, leadership, organization and problem-solving, among others.
Much of the job involves communicating with physicians, veterinarians, other researchers and pathologists or students, which means effective oral and written communications are an integral part of the job. Because the research and diagnosis process can be lengthy, it is important for pathologists to pay attention to detail, which includes monitoring and recording health information for the research subjects, as well as to be patient while waiting for diagnosis.
The work can also be quite physical, which means dexterity and stamina are required. It is important to be meticulous with sharp tools to avoid making mistakes, and in some cases pathologists may need to lift or turn humans, animals or even large plants for long periods of time.
What Does A Pathologist Do?
On a broad spectrum, pathologists study body fluids, cells and tissues to diagnose plants, animals and humans and find the right courses of treatment. However, depending on the specialty, each pathologist performs his or her duties in a different way.
- Anatomical Pathology: Anatomical pathologists take tissue specimens from humans and examine them. This may occur during surgery. These pathologists are critical for accurate diagnosis, especially in determining the presence of cancer cells.
- Clinical Pathology: Clinical pathologists spend their days overseeing lab tests related to body fluids. Most commonly, they test blood for the presence of bacteria, viruses or parasites.
- Forensic Pathology: Forensic pathologists work with corpses after sudden deaths related to freak accidents or homicides. They work with both tissue and body fluids and may also work with clothing fibers, hair samples and other pieces of evidence. They use the information to help determine how the person died and help law enforcement create a list of suspects.
While these are the most common types of pathology, there are many others, including specializations. Three common specializations are transfusion medicine pathologists, cytopathologists and neuropathologists. Those who work in transfusion medicine ensure hospitals have plenty of blood in their banks in case of large-scale emergencies. Cytopathologists work to diagnose diseases by using cells found in body fluids, and neuropathologists examine tissue from specific organs to look for disease. They are integral for diagnosing diseases that attack the central nervous system.
Medical pathology is particularly important. When it comes to living patients, pathologists determine how advanced diseases are, predict their course and how long they will be in the body, and suggest methods of treatment. Surgeons often work with pathologists during operations to ensure there are no unexpected problems. This is especially true for cancer patients or those who have non-cancerous tumors. When a patient has passed on, pathologists who work post-mortem can determine how well any treatment had helped the patient, which helps physicians who are treating living people with the same conditions.
Pathologists who work with animals work directly with zoologists or veterinarians to study and diagnose medical conditions in animals. Some work with domestic pets, while others diagnose wild animals or livestock. In many cases, animal pathologists also help humans by diagnosing and treating diseases that animals can transmit to humans, such as tuberculosis or rabies. Some work with medical researchers to study hereditary diseases in animals or to learn how cancerous tumors affect mice and other small animals, which can help human beings in the future.
Plant pathologists are sometimes referred to as phytopathologists. Many of them perform basic research related to disease in plants, such as determining how pollution affects respiration rate. This type of research can then help other pathologists who are studying how pollution affects humans by causing emphysema or lung cancer. Others work only with plants and have goals of preventing disease in them, especially those that provide food for humans.
What Is The Work Environment For A Pathologist?
Since pathologists work in so many different industries, the working conditions can vary greatly. Overall, though, most pathologists will spend their days working in research laboratories for medicine or other types of science.
Other common work areas include in hospital wards and morgues, or on farms and in greenhouses. Those who teach may also spend time in classrooms or offices. Pathologists can expect to work at least 40 hours per week and often work more.
Their schedules often include rotating shifts, which means sometimes working first shift and sometimes working second. Those who make their careers in hospitals or similar environments may work overnight sometimes.
How Much Does A Pathologist Make?
The earnings and benefits pathologists bring in vary greatly depending on their location, the company they work for, their years of experience and their specialization.
As of 2016, the median annual medical pathologist salary was $191,945 per year. Of course, money isn't the only thing to consider in terms of compensation. Depending on the industry and company, many pathologists also receive competitive benefits packages that include paid vacation and sick time; dental, health and life insurance; retirement plans; and much more.
What Is The Job Outlook For A Pathologist?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that jobs for medical pathologists are growing at a faster-than-average rate with an expected increase of 14 percent between 2014 and 2024, but there are no solid statistics for pathologists choosing to work in other industries.
The reason such large growth is expected in the medical field is because of the increase in the population who are now considered seniors. Senior citizens are known for requiring more medical care, including diagnosis of disease.
Pathologists who wish to advance their career paths can do so by improving their skill sets. Doing so creates new opportunities, such as teaching at universities, heading pathology departments and much more.
While it is possible to find pathologist jobs by using traditional job search websites, many graduates find them via their professors or their universities' placement services. Professional journals and industry conventions are also excellent places to learn about job opportunities.
Becoming a pathologist is an excellent choice for people who are still deciding what they want to do with their lives and who enjoy learning enough to spend more than four years in college.
Upon graduation and certification, jobs are available in a number of companies and in locations all around the world. To determine the best place to work, consider the type of pathology you'd like to specialize in and whether there is a need in your area or in an area where you'd like to live.