Become a Pathologist's Assistant: Job and Career Advancement Info

Learn how to become a pathologist's assistant. Research the job duties, education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in this healthcare profession.

Should I Become a Pathologist's Assistant?

Pathologist's assistants are health professionals who help pathologists prepare and diagnose tissue, blood and other specimens in a laboratory. They may also examine corpses in order to help to determine the cause of death. Sometimes they are responsible for running a pathology laboratory, undertaking such duties as billing, record-keeping and supervision of employees. Most are employed in community and academic hospitals, but some work alongside medical examiners in independent medical laboratories or government healthcare systems.

Like many laboratory and physician's assistants, pathologist's assistants spend most of their time working in a sterile, climate-controlled laboratory, but much of this is spent on their feet. Additionally, they're potentially exposed to biological contaminants, though following laboratory protocol generally helps avoid most accidents.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree, completion of pathologist's assistant training program
Degree Field Biology, chemistry or medical technology are recommended
Certification Certification through the American Society for Clinical Pathology is often required
Experience Employers often require three years of experience and/or a fellowship
Key Skills Proficiency in laboratory information system software programs, Microsoft Word and Excel
Salary (2014) $59,430 per year (Median salary for medical and clinical laboratory technologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Society for Clinical Pathology, American Association of Pathologists' Assistants (May 2012 job postings)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

An undergraduate major in one of the life sciences, such as biology or chemistry, is usually sufficient preparation for admission to a pathologist's assistant program. However, students with non-science majors may be able to fulfill admissions requirements by taking specific biology, chemistry and math courses.

Success Tips:

  • Take math and science classes in high school. Enrolling in biology, calculus and chemistry classes in high school can prepare students for college-level courses in these areas.
  • Check into prerequisites for pathology assistant programs. Because prerequisite requirements for pathologist's assistant training programs vary from one program to another, it's a good idea for students to find out the specific requirements for the programs they are interested in applying for before finishing up a bachelor's degree.

Step 2: Complete a Pathologist's Assistant Program

Pathologist's assistant programs last approximately two years and most often culminate in a master's degree. Curriculum consists of microbiology, general pathology, forensic photography, human anatomy, genetics and immunology. Students also learn about the various areas of pathology, such as surgical, pediatric, forensic and systemic pathology and the associated clinical techniques for each. Practical, hands-on training is provided through clinical rotations in pathology labs.

Step 3: Become Certified

Some employers require candidates to be certified through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) as a Pathologists' Assistant, or PA(ASCP). Applicants with a bachelor's degree who have completed an accredited pathologist's assistant program within a five-year period prior to applying for certification are eligible to take the national certification exam. Continuing education coursework is required every three years in order to maintain the status.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare for the exam. Individuals planning on taking the ASCP exam should gather study guides, recommended reading materials and online practice tests that can be found on the ASCP website.

Step 4: Join a Professional Association

Both the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and the American Association of Pathologists' Assistants (AAPA) offer member benefits that may be helpful to both beginning and seasoned assistants. Members have access to job postings, professional publications and networking opportunities in the form of meetings and conferences.

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