What is a Pathologist?

A pathologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the study of disease. Pathologists examine and analyze samples of tissues and body fluids to diagnose and monitor various medical conditions, including infections, cancers, autoimmune disorders, and genetic abnormalities. They use a variety of techniques, such as microscopy, molecular biology, and immunohistochemistry, to identify and characterize abnormalities in cells and tissues.

Pathologists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, laboratories, and research institutions, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals to develop treatment plans and monitor disease progression.

What does a Pathologist do?

A pathologist looking through a microscope.

Pathologists diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases. Their work is essential to identifying and understanding the causes and progression of diseases, developing new diagnostic tests and treatments, and improving patient outcomes. Without the expertise of pathologists, the accuracy and effectiveness of medical diagnosis and treatment would be greatly diminished, making their role indispensable in modern healthcare.

Duties and Responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities of a pathologist may vary depending on their specific area of expertise, but typically include:

  • Diagnosing Diseases: Pathologists examine tissue and fluid samples under a microscope to identify diseases and conditions. They use their expertise to determine the cause of a patient's symptoms and provide a diagnosis.
  • Conducting Autopsies: Pathologists may perform autopsies to determine the cause of death, provide information to families and law enforcement, and contribute to medical research.
  • Interpreting Laboratory Tests: Pathologists analyze laboratory tests, including blood tests, urine tests, and genetic tests, to help diagnose and monitor diseases.
  • Consulting With Other Healthcare Professionals: Pathologists collaborate with other healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, and laboratory technicians, to provide comprehensive patient care.
  • Researching Diseases: Pathologists conduct research to better understand the causes, treatments, and prevention of diseases. They may participate in clinical trials, develop new diagnostic tests, and investigate new treatment options.
  • Managing Laboratory Operations: Pathologists may be responsible for managing laboratory operations, including hiring and training staff, developing policies and procedures, and ensuring compliance with regulatory standards.
  • Educating Others: Pathologists educate medical students, residents, and other healthcare professionals on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, laboratory techniques, and other related topics.
  • Communicating With Patients and Families: Pathologists communicate test results, diagnoses, and treatment options to patients and their families, and provide guidance and support throughout the diagnostic and treatment process.

Types of Pathologists
Pathology is a broad field, and there are many different subspecialties within it. Specialization often requires additional training and certification beyond a general pathology residency. By specializing, pathologists can develop expertise in a particular area and provide more targeted and effective diagnoses and treatment recommendations. Here are a few types of pathologists:

  • Forensic Pathologists: Forensic pathologists are responsible for performing autopsies and determining the cause of death in cases of suspicious or unexpected deaths. They may work for government agencies or private companies.
  • Anatomic Pathologists: Anatomic pathologists examine tissues and cells under a microscope to identify and diagnose diseases. They work in hospital or clinical laboratories and play a crucial role in cancer diagnosis and treatment.
  • Clinical Pathologists: Clinical pathologists specialize in the analysis of body fluids and the interpretation of laboratory tests. They work in hospital laboratories and are responsible for performing and interpreting blood tests, urine tests, and other diagnostic tests.
  • Neuropathologists: Neuropathologists specialize in the study of diseases that affect the brain and nervous system. They examine brain tissue samples to diagnose conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis.
  • Dermatopathologists: Dermatopathologists specialize in the study of skin diseases and conditions. They examine skin tissue samples to diagnose skin cancers, infections, and other skin disorders.
  • Hematopathologists: Hematopathologists specialize in the study of diseases that affect the blood and bone marrow. They examine blood samples and bone marrow tissue samples to diagnose conditions such as leukemia and lymphoma.
  • Cytopathologists: Cytopathologists specialize in the examination and diagnosis of diseases at the cellular level. They analyze cells obtained through various techniques such as fine-needle aspirations, body fluid samples, and Pap smears.
  • Surgical Pathologists: Surgical pathologists specialize in examining tissue samples obtained from surgical procedures to diagnose diseases. They analyze specimens such as biopsies, surgical resections, and autopsies to identify abnormalities, determine the nature and extent of diseases, and provide diagnostic information to guide patient care.
  • Pediatric Pathologists: Pediatric pathologists specialize in the diagnosis of diseases that affect children, including genetic disorders and pediatric cancers. They work closely with pediatricians and other healthcare professionals to provide the best care for their patients.

Are you suited to be a pathologist?

Pathologists have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also conventional, meaning they’re conscientious and conservative.

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What is the workplace of a Pathologist like?

The typical work environment for a pathologist includes hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, research institutions, and universities.

One significant aspect of a pathologist's role is conducting autopsies, which are post-mortem examinations to determine the cause of death. In a hospital setting, pathologists may work closely with forensic experts, law enforcement, and medical examiners to provide insights into unexplained deaths or cases with legal implications. They meticulously examine tissues, organs, and bodily fluids to identify abnormalities and establish the pathology of diseases.

In addition to post-mortem examinations, pathologists play an important role in diagnostic pathology. They analyze patient samples, such as tissues and cells obtained through biopsies or surgical procedures, to identify and characterize diseases. This diagnostic work is vital for informing treatment decisions and prognosis. Pathologists may collaborate with other medical professionals, including surgeons and oncologists, to contribute to the overall patient care process.

Laboratories are a central part of a pathologist's workplace, where they use advanced technologies and techniques, including microscopy, molecular biology, and immunohistochemistry, to analyze samples and generate diagnostic reports. Pathologists also engage in ongoing research to advance medical knowledge, improve diagnostic methods, and contribute to the development of new treatments.

In academic settings, pathologists often hold teaching positions at medical schools or universities, educating medical students, residents, and fellows. They may also be involved in clinical trials, pathology conferences, and other educational activities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctor Specializations and Degrees

The following is a comprehensive list of the various specializations that a doctor can pursue and a brief summary of each specialization:

  • Allergist: An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies, asthma, and related conditions. Allergists have specialized training in the recognition and management of allergic reactions.
  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
  • Cardiothoracic Surgeon: A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
  • Chiropractic Neurologist: A chiropractic neurologist is a specialized type of chiropractor who has undergone additional training in the field of neurology. They diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
  • Colorectal Surgeon: A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
  • Doctor: An general overview of what a doctor does and how to become one.
  • Dentist: Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
  • Dermatologist: A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
  • Emergency Medicine Physician: An emergency medicine physician works in emergency departments, hospitals, and urgent care clinics, and is often the first medical professional that patients see when they are in need of urgent medical care.
  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
  • Family Practitioner: A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
  • Forensic Pathologist: A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
  • Geriatrician: A geriatrician specializes in the care of elderly patients, and often works with patients who have multiple chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as age-related cognitive and functional impairments.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
  • Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders, such as anemia and leukemia.
  • Hospitalist: A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
  • Immunologist: An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
  • Internist: An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
  • Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.
  • Naturopathic Physician: A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
  • Nephrologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, kidney stones, hypertension, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
  • Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Occupational Physician: Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
  • Oncologist: An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
  • Orthodontist: An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
  • Orthopedic Surgeon / Orthopedist: An orthopaedic surgeon (or orthopedist) examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Osteopath: Osteopaths have attended and graduated from an osteopathic medical school and practise the system of healthcare known as osteopathy. They consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms they exhibit. They see the integrated nature of the body’s organ systems and its capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.
  • Otolaryngologist: Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
  • Pathologist: A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
  • Periodontist: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
  • Podiatrist: A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
  • Prosthodontist: A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
  • Radiologist: A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
  • Rheumatologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Sports Medicine Physician: A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
  • Telemedicine Physician: A telemedicine physician provides remote healthcare services to patients using telecommunications technology, facilitating virtual consultations, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male reproductive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
  • Vascular Medicine Specialist - A vascular medicine specialist specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels. They may work with patients who have conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Vascular Surgeon - A vascular surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels, including aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and varicose veins.
  • Veterinary Dentist - A veterinary dentist is a specialized veterinarian who focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of dental diseases and conditions in animals. They perform dental procedures such as cleanings, extractions, and oral surgeries to improve the oral health and well-being of pets and other animals.


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Doctor Allergist Anesthesiologist Cardiologist Cardiothoracic Surgeon Chiropractor Colorectal Surgeon Dentist Dermatologist Emergency Medicine Physician Endocrinologist Family Practitioner Forensic Pathologist Gastroenterologist Geriatrician Gynecologist Hematologist Hospitalist Immunologist Infectious Disease Specialist Internist Medical Examiner Naturopathic Physician Nephrologist Neurologist Neurosurgeon Obstetrician Occupational Physician Oncologist Ophthalmologist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Orthopedic Surgeon Orthopedist Orthodontist Osteopath Otolaryngologist Pediatrician Periodontist Plastic Surgeon Podiatrist Prosthodontist Psychiatrist Pulmonologist Radiologist Rheumatologist Sports Medicine Physician Surgeon Urologist Vascular Medicine Specialist Vascular Surgeon Chiropractic Neurologist Veterinary Dentist Telemedicine Physician



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Pros and Cons of Being a Pathologist

The following exploration delves into both the advantages and challenges of pursuing a career as a pathologist, providing insight for individuals considering this specialized medical field.


  • Variety of Career Paths: Pathologists can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, research laboratories, and government agencies. They also have the option to specialize in different areas of pathology, such as forensic pathology, hematopathology, and molecular pathology.
  • High Demand: There is a growing demand for pathologists, particularly in underserved areas. This means that pathologists often have good job prospects and earning potential.
  • Intellectual Stimulation: Pathology is a challenging and intellectually stimulating field that requires continuous learning and problem-solving. Pathologists also have the opportunity to contribute to scientific research and advancements in medical knowledge.
  • Work-life Balance: Pathologists typically work regular hours and do not have to be on call, which can provide a good work-life balance.
  • High Job Satisfaction: Many pathologists report high job satisfaction due to the intellectual challenge of the work, the ability to make a significant impact on patient care, and the ability to work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals.


  • High Educational Requirements: Becoming a pathologist requires a significant amount of education and training, including completing medical school, a pathology residency, and passing licensing and certification exams.
  • Exposure to Disease: Pathologists work with infectious materials and potentially hazardous chemicals, which can increase the risk of exposure to disease.
  • Limited Patient Interaction: Pathologists have limited direct patient interaction, which may not be suitable for those who prefer a more patient-facing role in healthcare.
  • Limited Career Mobility: Specializing in a particular area of pathology can limit career mobility and may require additional training and certification to change career paths.
  • High Responsibility: Pathologists are responsible for accurately diagnosing diseases, which can have significant implications for patient care. This can create a high level of responsibility and pressure.