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Become a Pediatric Pathologist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a pediatric pathologist. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in pediatric pathology.

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Should I Become a Pediatric Pathologist?

A pediatric pathologist is a physician who specializes in the laboratory diagnosis of diseases that impact the normal growth and development of children from the embryonic stage to adolescence. Like other types of physicians, pathologists share a risk of illness when working in a medical setting; however, because pathologists work directly with diagnosing bacteria, viruses, and other diseases by examining and testing bodily fluids, they may be at a higher risk for coming in contact with an infectious disease.

Doctors who work in hospitals often work long and irregular hours; those that work within private practices may have more set schedules. There is high potential for good income in this career, though it can carry an emotional toil, be physically demanding, and be stressful.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Medical degree
Degree Field Pathology
Licensure Licensure is required; board certification in pediatric pathology is available
Experience Students gain experience during their medical school program and residency
Key Skills Communication, problem-solving, decision-making, time-management and negotiation skills, as well as knowledge of science, knowledge of industry-specific programs and medical software, ability to use medical tools, such as microtomes, biopsy needles and immunology analyzers
Salary (2014) $194,990 (mean salary for all types of physicians and surgeons)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), ONet Online.

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

Educational requirements for becoming a pediatric pathologist follow a similar path to becoming a physician in any area of medicine. First, a bachelor's degree is required, usually in the field of science. A majority of premedical students focus their 4-year degree plans in the areas of biology, physics, or inorganic and organic chemistry.

Success Tip:

  • Participate in research opportunities. Some schools may offer research programs for undergraduate students, which will allow them to apply their classroom learning in real-life situations.

Step 2: Apply to Medical School

The application process for being admitted into an accredited medical school can be lengthy and rigorous. The list of requirements for medical school admission includes providing letters of recommendation, submission of scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and copies of transcripts. The Association of American Medical Colleges states that prospective students need to have completed one year of biology, one year of physics, one year of English, and two years of chemistry. The process also often includes a face-to-face interview.

Step 3: Complete a 4-Year Medical School Program

Medical school students traditionally embark on a 4-year program. The first two years include shadowing experiences that are conducted during the preclinical portion of training. Beginning in the third year, medical students begin rotations in clinical medicine. These rotations are generally between 4-8 weeks long, and they can help narrow down the specialization process. Students rotate through various medical specialties and are exposed to several areas before making a final decision. Choosing to be a pediatric pathologist will lead to an initial specialization in the area of pathology, which will entail a strong focus in medical research and laboratory work.

Step 4: Enter a Residency

Residency is an intensive program designed to provide additional training to newly graduated physicians. Both anatomic pathology and clinical pathology residencies are available. Additional elective opportunities are also offered to provide training in specific areas of pathology such as pediatric pathology. The pathology residency phase can take as many as seven years to complete, depending on the program.

The American Board of Medical Specialties explains that pediatric pathology is a subspecialty that requires an additional 1-2 years of training. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education describes the specialized training for pediatric pathology as a program focusing on diagnostic pediatric pathology and placental and fetal pathology. Several medical facilities offer a 1-year fellowship in the subspecialty of pediatric pathology, which allows physicians to pursue the special qualification in this field offered by The American Board of Pathology.

Step 5: Obtain a License and Get Certified

In order to practice medicine in the United States, a physician must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). A medical student who is currently enrolled in or who has graduated from a medical school program may take the USMLE. Board certification in a specialized field is obtained by passing a final examination, which may be taken following residency or within the first two years of a physician's practice. A member of the American Board of Medical Specialties administers this exam.

Success Tip:

  • Take advantage of practice materials. The U.S. Medical Licensing Examination website offers online practice material for aspiring doctors.

Step 6: Join Relevant Organizations to Continue Education

Organizations such as the Society for Pediatric Pathologists (SPP) can help professionals in the field stay apprised of new research developments and network with other leaders. For example, the SPP offers its members opportunities such as meetings, workshops and courses.

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