Become a GI Pathologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Nov 29, 2017

Learn how to become a GI pathologist. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in gastrointestinal pathology.

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Should I Become a GI Pathologist?

Gastrointestinal (GI) pathologists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing diseases of the bowels, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. They make diagnoses by studying laboratory tests as well as examining organs and body tissue specimens taken from patients during biopsies and surgeries. Microscopic examination and visual inspection are among the methods pathologists use to detect and follow the progress of diseases.

A GI pathologist generally works as part of a medical team with other physicians, including surgeons and radiologists. Pathologists must be careful to wear gloves and masks to protect themselves from infectious diseases. Such physicians usually work in hospitals or in private practice, though job opportunities may be found in the research sector as well.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctoral
Degree Field Medicine
Licensure and Certification States require a license; certification is optional
Key Skills Knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics; strong mathematical skills; attention to details; critical thinking; communication skills; dexterity and physical stamina
Salary (2014) $189,760 (mean for physicians and surgeons)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine.

Step 1: Earn a College Degree

Aspiring physicians typically earn a bachelor's degree before applying to medical school. Some students choose to acquire an advanced degree. Prospective physicians may pursue any major as long as they complete the undergraduate courses that medical schools require for admission. Pre-medical courses vary with individual medical schools, but usually include classes in biology, chemistry, English, math and physics.

Step 2: Pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

This multiple-choice test gauges a student's scientific knowledge and the abilities to think critically and solve problems. Students receive scores in biological and physical sciences as well as verbal reasoning. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which administers the MCAT, recommends that students take the test during the calendar year before the year they want to start medical school. Free practice tests are available online, and students can retake the MCAT if they're disappointed with their scores.

Step 3: Graduate from Medical School

A prospective GI pathologist needs a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree from an accredited medical program. Medical school typically takes four years to complete. In the non-clinical phase during the first two years, students study in classrooms and labs. They learn basic skills including recognizing specific illnesses and examining patients. Courses may include anatomy, genetics, immunology, pharmacology and reproduction.

The clinical portion of medical school involves students working on patients at hospitals and other medical facilities while supervised by experienced doctors. Medical students acquire a wide variety of experience by working rotations in areas including surgery, general practice, rehabilitative medicine, pediatrics, anesthesiology and internal medicine.

Step 4: Finish Residency Training in Pathology

During a residency program, physicians who have just graduated receive specialized training under the guidance of experienced doctors. Aspiring GI pathologists typically complete an accredited residency program in anatomic pathology (AP) or a combined anatomic and clinical pathology (CP) program. Residency training provides specialized clinical experience and research opportunities for novice physicians. Training also occurs during seminars and conferences. Residents in an AP program may serve rotations in areas including GI pathology, pediatric pathology, autopsies, surgical pathology and cytology.

Step 5: Get a Medical License

Every state mandates licensing for physicians. The individual states set differing licensing requirements, but eligible candidates must have graduated from an accredited medical program, finished residency training and passed all required licensing tests. Each applicant must pass a national licensing exam. National testing consists of the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam for applicants with an M.D. degree. D.O. candidates take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam.

Step 5: Earn Board Certification

Certification is optional for physicians. Earning board certification may help physicians with career advancement. The American Board of Pathology (ABP) and the American Osteopathic Board of Pathology (AOBPa) are the certification boards for pathologists. No board certification specific to the sub-specialty of GI pathology exists in the United States, however.

Candidates seeking certification from either the ABP or the AOBPa must pass required exams and meet other eligibility requirements. These include graduating from an accredited medical school, completing graduate training in pathology and holding a valid medical license. Aspiring GI pathologists may choose to seek the ABP's combined certification in anatomic and clinical pathology. The eligibility requirements include four years in an AP/CP graduate training program. For AP certification from the ABP, candidates must have completed three years in an AP or combined AP/CP training program. Pathologists seeking AP certification from the AOBPa need four years of graduate medical training.

After earning board certification, pathologists are expected to maintain this credential by retaining a valid medical license, obtaining continuing medical education and taking tests on field knowledge. Both organizations also require documentation of the pathologist's professional performance and efforts at quality improvement.

Step 6: Complete a Fellowship in GI Pathology

Aspiring GI pathologists typically complete fellowship training in the sub-specialty. Some fellowships require pathologists that are board certified or eligible for certification. GI pathology fellowships provide 1-2 years of intensive experience and training in diagnosing diseases of the gastrointestinal system. Fellows examine surgical and biopsy specimens as well as consult with other physicians and surgeons about patient treatment. GI pathology fellows generally perform research in addition to clinical duties.

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