Pathologist Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

A Pathologist, or Clinical Pathologist, is a medical doctor responsible for examining living and dead tissues to diagnose disease and identify how illnesses and injuries occurred. Their duties include performing biopsies, testing medical specimens in the laboratory and producing written pathology reports to inform treatment plans.

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Pathologist duties and responsibilities

A Pathologist has very important duties and responsibilities that directly affect the patient involved. These responsibilities develop over time due to experience and education:

  • Study blood samples for transfusion use including the blood type, blood group, cell morphology and compatibility with other blood types
  • Use medical equipment and computerized systems to perform various lab tests
  • Operate laboratory equipment like cell counters and microscopes
  • Log data from lab tests and enter results in patient’s record
  • Discuss the results of the lab tests with doctors

What does a Pathologist do?

Pathologists work in testing centers, research labs and hospitals to provide other Doctors and patients with scientific confirmation of disorders, diseases and other conditions. They mostly spend time studying and interpreting samples in the lab.  Pathologists collect specimens, then examine and identify the particular bacteria or virus that resulted in a patient’s symptoms and communicate the biopsy or test results to the patient’s attending Doctor. 

They also store medical specimens, prepare slides, design laboratory tests and observe lab technicians. A Pathologist may also be responsible for performing an autopsy on a dead body to identify cause of death or recognize abnormalities in the body.

Pathologist skills and qualifications

Pathologists must undergo many years of schooling and hands-on training to obtain a job. Skills and qualifications often earned include:

  • Technological skills are needed because Pathologists use both clinical and other computerized equipment. They should also be up-to-date with the latest laboratory technology.
  • Pathologists should have dexterity in order to use their hands effectively. They work with various tools, like needles and other lab precision tools, and they must handle these tools well to minimize mistakes.
  • Being detail oriented is a skill Pathologists must have in order to follow instructions and perform lab tests correctly. 
  • Physical stamina is important because Pathologists work on their feet for long periods of time. They also need to lift or turn some patients over to collect samples for testing.

Pathologist education and training requirements

Pathologists usually have a bachelor’s degree in life science or medical technology areas. They take courses in biology, statistics, chemistry and microbiology. Pathologists then need to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) to enter medical school. Following medical school, students enter three to four years of a pathology residency.

There is also a clinical part of the program that provides hands-on training. This is typically done in a hospital setting and gives students some work experience. The training is done the last two years of the program. Many Pathologists pursue an additional one- to two-year fellowship in a pathology subspecialty.

Pathologist experience requirements

Pathologists usually gain experience through their training programs in the medical field. Since the medical field is accompanied by hands-on training, Pathologists are usually required to follow a clinical part of their medical school training.

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Frequently asked questions about Pathologists

 

What is the difference between a Pathologist and a Medical Examiner?

Pathologists and Medical Examiners can both perform post-mortem medical work, but Pathologists also work with living patients while Medical Examiners collaborate with law enforcement to determine someone’s cause of death. Medical Examiners and Pathologists both have medical school qualifications. Pathologists help influence care plans for living patients and produce documents summarizing their findings. Medical Examiners complete forensic tests before declaring a cause of death and filling out the death certificate. They communicate with Police and Pathologists to confirm or deny medical evidence of a crime or confirm abnormal test results.

 

What are the daily duties of a Pathologist?

Pathologists schedule multiple laboratory tests over the course of the day based on requests from other medical professionals. They work with Lab Assistants to ensure the laboratory conditions are appropriate for preserving medical samples and running chemical tests. Pathologists sterilize their lab equipment and visually examine samples at a high magnification to identity bacteria, abrasions and other possible causes of a disease or injury. They might perform complex genetic testing to screen for cancer. They consult on possible treatment plans and send the results back to the Doctor or Coroner, updating records about a patient’s test results.

 

What are the qualities of a good Pathologist?

The most important characteristic of a good Pathologist is the ability to notice minute details. They need to have keen eyesight to recognize subtle differences between the appearance of different viruses in tissue or fluid samples. Pathologists are curious and motivated professionals who work to find the root cause of abnormalities and determine the scientific basis for medical treatment plans. They should enjoy reading and researching new findings in the field of pathology. Good Pathologists are organized people who thrive in structured environments where they use logical reasoning to solve problems.

 

What are the different types of Pathologists?

There are many different types of Pathologists who work with different kinds of diseases or medical samples. Forensic Pathologists, who use pathology to consult on violent crimes, are one of the most common roles for Doctors studying pathology. Dermatopathology is another common field that works with studying skin biopsies and identifying cancer or other skin conditions. Popular subspecialties for Pathologists include transfusion medicine, cytopathology, forensic pathology, chemical pathology, neuropathology and molecular genetic pathology.

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