Pathologists are doctors who research, study and diagnose disease and infection by looking closely at samples of bodily fluids, tissues and organs at a microscopic level.

Watch an Overview of Pathology

About Pathology

Pathologists are highly trained in the precise study of blood, bodily fluids, tissues, and organs to understand and diagnose disease. Clinical pathologists are trained to understand and document changes or mutations in a patient’s blood, organs, or tissues as it relates to illness and disease. In this regard, pathologists are capable of diagnosing diseases that may otherwise go undiagnosed by other clinical providers.

When providing diagnostic services, pathologists utilize samples of blood, tissue or other bodily fluids to perform the tests necessary to arrive at a precise diagnosis. After arriving at a diagnosis, the pathologist may assist in recommending proper treatments to general practitioners or other medical providers.

Generally, most pathologists do not actually have contact with patients, and are called upon as diagnostic specialists when general physicians are unable to diagnose patients. Within the field of pathology, there are two main subdivisions: clinical and anatomic pathology. Clinical pathologists study fluid samples (such as blood or urine) from patients to document the stages of a disease, which is of great importance to the medical community when it comes to understanding disease. Anatomic pathologists are trained to study tissue samples to provide insight into the progression or regression of disease.

Pathology Education & Training

Training to become a pathologist begins with the completion of a bachelor’s degree in one of the scientific fields. After undergraduate school, the student must earn an MD or DO degree from an accredited medical school. After earning a medical degree, the physician must complete an internship before entering into residency training.

During a residency, usually in combined anatomic and clinical pathology, the physician will receive training in the diagnosis and study of disease while under the supervision of licensed, experienced physicians. Some pathologists will choose to subspecialize in a field such as surgical pathology, gynecological pathology, clinical pathology, neuropathology, cytopathology, pediatric pathology or forensic pathology. Specializing in a field of pathology may or may not require additional training.

Each state requires pathologists to become licensed to practice; many states also require pathologists to become certified by the American Board of Pathology.