How To Become a Pathology Technician in 4 Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Pathology technicians are crucial to the medical industry as they assess human specimens. They may test samples to make a diagnosis or to rule the cause of death. Becoming a pathology technician requires the completion of certain education and training to ensure you have the skills you need. In this article, we discuss the duties of a pathology technician, as well as how you can become one, what salary to expect and the most important skills you need when working as one.

What is a pathology technician?

A pathology technician assists a pathologist with testing and reviewing samples. Some pathology technicians work in medical laboratories, taking and examining specimens. The pathology technician is also responsible for preparing the laboratory, including setting up equipment, preparing samples and conducting research on them. The pathology technician is also in charge of properly cleaning the lab and then storing specimens.

Related: 20 Medical Specialties and Subspecialties To Explore

What does a pathology technician do?

A pathology technician is someone who assists a pathologist in testing samples and providing diagnoses or recommendations for medical treatment. They may have the following duties:

  • Use microscopes or other lab equipment to examine tissue samples

  • Prepare microscope slides for testing

  • Clean microscope slides after use

  • Assist with diagnosing medical conditions

  • Assist with diagnosing the cause of death

  • Provide consultation or describe evidence in a court case

  • Analyze cells in tissue samples

  • Conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death

  • Create a clinical report with diagnosis information and treatment recommendations

  • Train or assist other technicians in using lab equipment

Related: What Is a Forensic Pathologist? (And What Do They Do?)

How to become a pathology technician

Becoming a pathology technician requires the completion of these educational and training requirements:

1. Earn an associate's degree

Most employers require pathology technicians to have a minimum of an associate's degree. You can pursue an associate's degree in laboratory science. Some may also pursue a degree in life sciences. Typical classes include math and chemistry and most programs also include biology labs. Other classes that may be important include anatomy and biochemistry.

Some colleges may offer students access to a pathology technician program. This is a program that includes a curriculum specifically for providing students with the training and skills they need as a pathologist.

2. Consider a bachelor's degree

Some students may choose to continue their education with a bachelor's degree. Attendance in a bachelor's degree program can be useful for access to internship experiences. Some programs offer hands-on internships where students can develop laboratory skills. Students may intern in a variety of medical environments, including hospitals, doctor's offices or medical laboratories.

In a bachelor's degree program, you can expect to take classes like forensic or molecular pathology. You can also expect to spend a lot of time working in a lab setting, learning the research skills of a technician.

Related: 90 Bachelor of Science Jobs

3. Study and take the licensing exam

Many states require pathology technicians to pass an exam before working. Some may also choose to pursue certifications that can make you more competitive when applying to pathology positions. The most common certification is through the American Society of Clinical Pathologists. The certification is the ASCP Board of Certification. This certification also requires ongoing education every three years.

4. Apply for an internship or entry-level positions

Most pathology technicians begin their careers in an internship or entry-level position. This work experience can help you learn the necessary skills of a pathology technician, including the proper use of lab equipment. Once you complete school, you may also find a position as a research assistant in a pathologist's lab, which can help you work your way up to a pathology technician.

Even as a pathology technician, you continue to train and learn the field of pathology. You can expect your job duties to increase in responsibility where you may move from assisting to completing tasks.

Related: Medical Assistant Certifications To Advance Your Career

Average salary of a pathology technician

The average annual salary of a pathology technician is $59,620 per year. This is based on a full-time salary but some pathology technicians may work part time. Pathology technicians may also be eligible for additional benefits that can increase the value of compensation. Additional benefits may include health insurance or contribution to a retirement account. Some may also offer tuition assistance.

Typical work environment of a pathology technician

A pathology technician spends the majority of their time working in a lab with a microscope. They may prepare biopsy samples for the pathologist or create reports based on findings. Some pathology technicians may also conduct autopsies and uncover the cause of death.

A pathology technician can expect to spend a lot of time on their feet. They typically work a standard schedule but may have evening and weekend hours on occasion. Some pathology technicians may also work in an academic setting where they conduct research or train other aspiring pathology technicians.

Essential skills of a pathology technician

Certain soft and hard skills are beneficial when working as a pathology technician, including:

  • Project management: Project management skills, including organization, are crucial as a pathology technician. Pathology technicians often work on many projects at once, and the ability to maintain records that are confidential and error-free is necessary.

  • Problem-solving: The ability to diagnose is important as a pathology technician. This position may also require basic problem-solving skills like the ability to troubleshoot or use the lab equipment.

  • Communication: Because pathology technicians assist others, good communication skills are important. Both verbal and written skills are necessary to work as a technician to ensure all medical care teams and research lab members have the information they need from the report.

  • Research: A large percentage of a pathology technician's position is research. The ability to prepare and conduct experiments in a lab setting is necessary.

  • Professionalism: Pathology technicians work in a medical setting where they may interact with human bodies or materials, making a sense of professionalism an important skill.

  • Attention to detail: Accurate results are crucial when working as a pathology technician. Medical providers often use the results to make a diagnosis or suggest treatment options.

  • Technical: Pathology technicians often use medical devices like x-ray equipment to assist with diagnosis. They also frequently use laboratory equipment to conduct assessments.

  • Mathematics: Good mathematical skills can not only help a pathology technician do well in an academic program and training but also in their position. This skill is important in conducting research.

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