How to Get a Pathology Degree: Program Information

Oct 26, 2019

A Master of Science (M.S.) in Pathology program equips graduates for entry-level positions such as pathology assistants, while a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is required for those seeking employment in research positions.

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Essential Information

Master's and doctoral programs in pathology are designed to instruct students in areas such as medical microbiology, clinical pathology and disease mechanisms. Laboratory instruction is a major element of these programs. Learners must develop thesis or dissertation projects, depending on the level of study. Certifications are available to licensed medical professionals who take the Anatomic Pathology and Clinical Pathology examinations and receive acceptable scores.

Applicants to a master's degree program must have a bachelor's degree in the biological sciences and have taken pre-med courses. To apply to a Ph.D. program, prospective students need a master's degree in pathology or a related discipline such as biology, chemistry or molecular biology. It is not uncommon for applicants to master's and Ph.D. programs to already have a medical degree.


Master of Science in Pathology

Master's degree programs in pathology include both classroom lectures and hands-on lab work to prepare students for careers in biomedical research or to assist clinical pathologists. Candidates develop core theoretical and practical knowledge of cell and molecular biology as a basis for specialization in areas such as toxicology, neuroscience and stem cell research. After a pre-determined period of classroom instruction, students may choose a preferred area of research and spend the bulk of their time in the laboratory developing a thesis project.

Graduate degree programs in pathology generally contain classes that provide advanced knowledge in core biomedical principles and their application in a variety of clinical research settings. Students choose their own research topic and develop their thesis. Common class topics include:

  • Surgical pathology
  • Histology
  • Genetics
  • Virology and medical microbiology
  • Clinical pathology
  • Autopsies

Ph.D. in Pathology

Doctoral degree programs generally provide the highest level of study and research in the field of pathology. Program lengths vary; however, most require 35-50 hours of upper-tier coursework and laboratory research in addition to previously completed master's degree credits in pathology or a closely related field. Most institutions require the completion and defense of a doctoral dissertation to fulfill the degree curriculum.

Classes comprise of advanced studies and specialized research in areas including molecular pathology, intracellular tracking and autoimmunity. Course subjects include:

  • Applied principles of pathology
  • Care and use of research animals
  • Systemic pathology
  • Pathology research
  • Mechanisms of disease

Popular Career Options

Graduates are generally equipped to seek advanced and senior-level positions in a variety of clinical research settings. Many students opt to pursue doctoral degrees in pathology in order to achieve board certification as a pathologist. Some career options include:

  • Pathology assistant
  • Biochemist
  • Researcher

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicians and surgeons could see a projected growth rate of 7% in employment for the decade 2018-2028. The mean annual wage for physicians and surgeons was $203,880 for 2018.

Continuing Education

Licensed medical professionals can seek pathologist certification by the American Board of Pathology after completion of an approved degree program in pathology and a residency program. Candidates must apply for and successfully pass the Anatomic Pathology and Clinical Pathology examinations to be certified as a pathologist.

Graduate-level pathology programs give students the opportunity to take advanced coursework and apply their knowledge to independent research projects. Because doctoral programs are longer and more comprehensive, graduates can pursue more higher-level pathology-related careers.

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