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Become a Clinical Pathologist: Education and Career Guide

Nov 25, 2019

Clinical pathologists focus on diagnosing illnesses via the examination of samples in a laboratory setting. Learn about the clinical pathologist education requirements, career stages, and more.

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  • 0:04 Should I Be a Clinical…
  • 1:04 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:04 Take the MCAT
  • 2:52 Earn a Medical Degree…
  • 4:30 Complete a Residency Program
  • 5:19 Acquire and Maintain…

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What is Clinical Pathology?

Clinical pathology is a branch of medicine that attempts to diagnose the ailments of patients by examining bodily fluids such as blood or urine. Those who practice this type of medicine are referred to as clinical pathologists. Clinical physicians typically follow a similar educational path to physicians. Unlike physicians, they often work in medical laboratories rather than hospitals, where samples are processed and examined with the help of pathologist assistants. This may involve creating cell cultures to check for microbe infections, measuring the levels of certain chemicals, and other telltale signs of disease. Once results are obtained and a diagnosis is determined, this information is passed on to the patient's medical care team.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Clinical Pathologist?

Like other types of doctors, an individual aiming to become a clinical pathologist will need to earn a bachelor's degree, attend medical school, and then complete a residency before being recognized. Bachelor's degree programs typically take four years to complete. While there is not a specific required bachelor's degree, medical schools may generally prefer candidates who have taken pre-medicine, biology, biomedical science, or other related programs.

As the end of your bachelor's program approaches, you will need to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and begin applying to medical schools. Clinical pathologists can be either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), so programs of either variety will be sufficient. Medical school typically takes another four years to complete, during which time you will gain clinical experience, attend classroom courses, and begin to develop your specialty (in this case, clinical pathology).

Upon graduation from medical school, you will need to find a residency position at a hospital, university or lab. Clinical pathology residencies usually take at least three years. Once you have completed residency, you will be eligible to become a fully licensed doctor.

Licensure and Certification for Clinical Pathologists

Clinical pathologists must be licensed by the state to practice medicine, as is the case with other doctors. While each state's requirements for licensure will vary slightly, almost all states will require that a candidate has completed a program at an accredited medical school, a residency in their field of specialization, and pass a licensing exam. For MDs, the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is required, while DOs must take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX).

Certification is also an option for clinical pathologists, although it is not required. Certifications for clinical pathology are primarily used to develop and demonstrate competency in a subspecialty, although primary specialty certification is also an option. The main certifying organization for pathology is the American Board of Pathology. To become certified in clinical pathology, an applicant must have a full medical license, have graduated from an accredited program, and have completed a 3-year minimum residency in their specialty. Certification must be sought within 5 years of completion of residency. Applicants must then pass a certification exam in whatever specialty or subspecialty they intend to earn. Certification operates on a ten-year cycle, and continuing education must be met to stay certified.

Clinical Pathology Career And Salary Information

According to the salary data website Payscale.com, the average salary for clinical and anatomical pathologists is $200,329. Similarly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for all physicians and surgeons indicates a median salary of $208,000 or greater, making them among the most well-paid careers in America. The BLS also predicts job growth of 7% for all physicians from 2018 to 2028, a bit higher than the national average. Physicians tend to have little trouble finding a position since medical schools will assist them in locating a suitable residency. A sizable elderly population is attributed as one possible reason for this growth.

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