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Difference Between Anatomical & Clinical Pathologist

This article outlines the main similarities and differences between anatomical pathologists and clinical pathologists, as well as some typical day-to-day responsibilities unique to each job.

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Comparing Anatomical Pathologists to Clinical Pathologists

Generally speaking, the field of pathology involves examining patient specimens in a laboratory to determine the nature, cause, and progression of disease. Though anatomical pathologists and clinical pathologists both do this kind of medical research, their specific roles and responsibilities are much different. Read on for more information about the similarities and differences between these two careers.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2014-2024)**
Anatomical Pathologist Medical degree $193,563 14% (for all physicians and surgeons)
Clinical Pathologist Medical degree $187,500 14% (for all physicians and surgeons)

Sources: *Payscale.com and **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Anatomical Pathologists vs. Clinical Pathologists

Both anatomical pathologists and clinical pathologists are highly-trained medical professionals who study diseases and their effects on the human body. Though these careers share a similar work environment and ultimate goal, there are many differences between them. Anatomical pathologists study organs and tissue, while clinical pathologists typically work with body fluids like blood and urine. Because anatomical pathologists work with tissue samples, they often choose a specialty such as pediatric pathology or autopsy; clinical pathologists don't usually need to limit themselves to a distinct patient population.

Anatomical Pathologist

Anatomical pathologists work in a widely varied field of medical research. Depending on their specialty, anatomical pathologists may collaborate with surgeons, coroners, dermatologists, neurologists, or any number of other physicians and clinicians in order to collect tissue for biopsy, correctly diagnose diseases, and develop a proper course of treatment. Anatomical pathologists can work in hospitals, university medical centers, and independent laboratories. The educational requirements to become an anatomical pathologist include a medical degree and license as well as board certification in anatomical pathology.

Job responsibilities of an anatomical pathologist include:

  • Examining human tissue and organ samples using a variety of laboratory tools and techniques
  • Documenting testing procedures and results accurately
  • Maintaining a clean and sterile laboratory environment to prevent sample contamination and potential injury to other pathologists, technicians, and lab assistants
  • Overseeing administrative duties such as budgeting, equipment maintenance, and supply procurement

Clinical Pathologist

Clinical pathologists oversee a whole range of laboratory divisions, including hematology, immunology, and toxicology. Using fluid samples like blood, spinal fluid, and bone marrow, these highly trained professionals help doctors determine the cause and severity of a variety of diseases. They can also use other diagnostic tools to analyze the concentration of certain substances in the body, such as alcohol or drugs. Becoming a clinical pathologist requires a medical degree, medical license, board certification in clinical pathology, and a strong background in mathematics, research science, and laboratory practices.

Job responsibilities for a clinical pathologist include:

  • Managing a variety of laboratory services
  • Developing policies and procedures to help improve safety, efficiency, and accuracy
  • Communicating test results to physicians and other medical staff
  • Participating in continuing education programs to stay up-to-date on emerging laboratory technology and scientific advances

Related Careers

Those interested in a career as an anatomical pathologist may also want to consider a job as a medical examiner; these physicians also collect and analyze tissue samples during autopsies to determine a patient's cause and manner of death. If you are considering a career as a clinical pathologist, you may also be interested in becoming a forensic toxicologist, another job that involves examining body fluids for the presence of chemicals and foreign substances.

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