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How to Become a Pathology Consultant: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a pathology consultant. Learn about the job description, and see the steps needed to start a career in pathology consultation. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Be a Pathology Consultant?

Pathology consultants or pathologists are physicians who focus on diseases and other abnormalities that affect patients. Most pathology consultants specialize in a particular field, such as hematopathology or forensic pathology. They may conduct tests, examine biological samples and collaborate with other physicians to diagnose illnesses.

Pathologists must complete several years of education and training, which can be expensive. On the plus side, once they're established in their careers, they can make several times the national average yearly salary, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, these professionals must be comfortable with working long hours, taking irregular shifts, standing for long periods of time and working with blood and other samples.

Career Requirements

Pathology consultants have doctoral degrees and are licensed to practice as either Doctors of Medicine (M.D.s) or Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.s). They are detail oriented with excellent communication, organizational, and problem-solving skills. They are proficient using databases, medical software programs, and a variety of diagnostic tools, including immunology analyzers and biopsy needles. According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for physicians and surgeons, which include pathology consultants, was $197,700 in 2015.

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Steps to Be a Pathology Consultant

What steps do I need to take to be a pathology consultant?

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring pathology consultants generally must earn an undergraduate degree before attending medical school. A few medical schools do not require applicants to complete undergraduate programs, but an undergraduate degree is required for certification. Many schools offer pre-med tracks to prepare students for further education. In most programs, students can choose any major but are required to take certain courses. This may include several semesters of chemistry, biology, anatomy, human physiology, and calculus.

Start thinking about a specialization early. Pathologists work in every area of medicine, and students often choose to specialize in one field. Possible specialties include chemical pathology, molecular genetic pathology, pediatric pathology, and neuropathology. Deciding on a specialty while still in an undergraduate degree program may help you choose electives and pick the appropriate medical school program.

Step 2: Complete Medical School

Medical school programs typically last four years. Aspiring physicians complete either an M.D. or a D.O. program. The first two years generally take place in a classroom setting and teach students about bodily functions, diseases, and pharmacology. Students may spend the second half of the program in clinical practice and work directly with patients. Aspiring pathology consultants might consider a medical school program with a focus on general pathology or a specialized pathology field.

Consultants who are interested in running their own practice may pursue dual medical degree programs, such as M.D./Master of Business Administration (MBA). These programs take approximately five years to complete and teach students about business operations.

Step 3: Complete a Residency Program

After graduating from medical school, pathologists must participate in a residency program, typically lasting 3-5 years.

For further success, you may want to become certified. Pathology consultants may choose to become certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Basic certification requires undergraduate and medical degrees, 3-5 years in a residency program, and completion of a written exam. Candidates may pursue certification in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, or a combination of the two. Additional certification is available in ten subspecialties. To maintain certification, physicians must participate in continuous learning programs and stay up to date with developments in their field.

Step 4: Pass the Licensing Exam

To practice medicine you must pass one of two licensing exams. M.D. candidates take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which consists of general medical knowledge, clinical skills, and patient management. And D.O. candidates take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination. Some states may require additional licensing.

Pathology consultants focus on diseases and other abnormalities that affect patients. They have doctoral degrees and are licensed to practice. They are detail-oriented problem solvers with many diagnostic tools, and they earn mean annual salary of $197,700.

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