How to Prepare to Be a Pathologist

Pathologists study tissue samples to help diagnose diseases.

Pathologists study tissue samples to help diagnose diseases.

Pathologists are medical doctors who examine tissues for evidence of disease or toxins. Pathology is generally divided into two areas and two major subspecialties – clinical pathology and anatomic pathology, and forensic pathology and pathology research. Clinical pathologists perform or supervise lab tests on bodily fluids and tissues to diagnose disease. Anatomic pathologists work with surgical teams to quickly identify tumors and other tissues removed during a surgical procedure so the surgeons can make informed decisions regarding the procedure. Forensic pathologists identify bodily tissues for evidence in legal matters, and research pathologists develop new tests and new equipment for more accurate identification and diagnosis.

Earn an undergraduate degree in a field of interest. A bachelor's degree is required for entrance to medical school. It's a good idea to take a math- and science-heavy course load to prepare for med school.

Take the medical school aptitude test and earn a good enough score to get into the medical school of your choice. Medical schools use the MCAT, your grades as an undergraduate and other factors to determine admission.

Complete medical school. Medical school is a rigorous four-year program in which you study anatomy, biochemistry, disease and pathology, pharmacology and psychology for the first two years, and spend the last two years working with experienced physicians in clinics and hospitals.

Undertake a pathology residency program to gain experience working with licensed pathologists. A typical pathology residency programs lasts four years, and usually includes rotations in clinical pathology, surgical/anatomic pathology, and autopsy or forensic pathology. Residents are given more responsibility as they gain experience, and fourth-year residents largely practice independently and consult with senior physicians as necessary.


  • Become board certified in pathology within a few years of finishing your residency. Being board certified means passing a comprehensive exam for primary certification, and you can also choose to become certified in a specific sub-field of pathology. These certification programs are offered through the American Board of Pathology.

About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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