Types of pathologist

October 8, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Inspecting tissue samples in the hospital in ThailandIf you are fascinated by the science of medicine and are interested in something other than direct patient care, pathology may be the perfect career choice. A pathologist is a doctor who studies tissues, cells and body fluids in order to help other physicians make a diagnosis—but the field of pathology is much broader than that. Although the job may not seem as glamorous or exciting as other areas of medicine, such as emergency medicine or surgery, pathologists play a critical role in understating and diagnosing disease. There are different branches of pathology and several subspecialties within the field.


Anatomical pathology

Anatomical pathology involves examining tissue specimens taken from the human body. The examination is conducted for diagnostic purposes. For example, a pathologist may examine tissue removed during surgery in order to determine if cancer cells are present. Anatomical pathologists play a critical role in determining an accurate diagnosis.

Clinical pathology

A clinical pathologist is involved in conducting and overseeing laboratory tests on body fluids, such as blood. Tests are performed to identify the presence of disease- causing organisms, such as parasites, bacteria and viruses. The main difference between clinical pathology and anatomical pathology is that the later deals with tissue samples from an organ.  

Forensic pathology

Forensic pathologists examine evidence collected in sudden, unexplained deaths, such as homicides and accidents. Evidence may include human tissue, blood, fibers from clothing and hair samples. The examination of forensic evidence can help determine how an individual died. It also helps law enforcement officials identify suspects in crimes and prosecute cases.

In addition to the different branches of pathology listed above, there are also subspecialties in each branch. A subspecialty of pathology allows a physician to narrow his or her focus even further. Below are some of the subspecialties:

Transfusion medicine: A pathologist who works in transfusion medicine ensures there is an adequate supply of blood in a hospital’s blood bank. He or she also performs pre-transfusion testing on the blood and makes sure all safety protocols are being met.

Cytopathologist: This subspecialty of pathology performs a very specific type of work. Cytopathologists examine cells obtained from body fluids and secretions to help diagnose various types of diseases. 

Neuropathologist: Pathologists may specialize in examining tissues related to a specific type of disease or organ system. Neuropathologists are experts in assisting neurologists in diagnosing diseases of the central nervous system by examining cells and tissue samples. 

Path to becoming a pathologist

Similar to other types of physicians, pathologists start their careers in college. A four-year degree is needed in order to apply to medical school. Medical school takes four years to complete and includes lectures, laboratory work and clinical rotations in various specialties.

After completing medical school, a four to five-year pathology residency is next. Additional training in the form of a fellowship may be needed for certain subspecialties of pathology. The length of a pathology fellowship varies according to the subspecialty chosen. Pathologists work in medical centers, laboratories, universities and government agencies, such as the coroner’s office.