CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a pathologist.

Step 1

Is becoming a pathologist right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do pathologists do?
Career Satisfaction
Are pathologists happy with their careers?
What are pathologists like?

Still unsure if becoming a pathologist is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a pathologist or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

High School

If you are interested in becoming a pathologist, there are several high school courses that can help prepare you for a career in this field. Some of the recommended courses include:

  • Biology: This course provides an introduction to the study of living organisms and their functions. As a pathologist, you will need a strong understanding of biology to analyze and diagnose medical conditions.
  • Chemistry: Chemistry is the study of matter and its properties, as well as the interactions between different substances. This course can help you understand the chemical processes that occur in the body and how they relate to disease.
  • Anatomy and Physiology: This course explores the structure and function of the human body. As a pathologist, you will need to have a thorough knowledge of anatomy and physiology to diagnose and treat diseases.
  • Medical Terminology: This course introduces the specialized vocabulary used in healthcare settings. As a pathologist, you will need to be familiar with medical terminology to accurately communicate with other medical professionals.
  • Math: A strong background in mathematics can be helpful for a career in pathology, particularly when it comes to statistical analysis and data interpretation.
  • English: Strong communication skills are essential in the medical field. English courses can help you develop your reading, writing, and speaking skills.

Overall, the most important thing is to take challenging courses in high school and work hard to achieve good grades. This will help you build a strong foundation of knowledge and skills that will serve you well in your future career as a pathologist.

Step 3

Formal Education Steps

Becoming a pathologist involves several years of education and training. Here are the steps you can follow to become a pathologist:

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
The first step in becoming a pathologist is to earn a bachelor's degree in a related field such as biology, chemistry, or pre-med studies. You will need to complete courses in math, science, and English.

Step 2: Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
To enter medical school, you will need to take the MCAT, which is a standardized test that assesses your knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, and critical thinking.

Step 3: Complete Medical School
After completing your bachelor's degree and the MCAT, the next step is to attend medical school. Medical school typically takes four years to complete and includes classroom and clinical training. During the first two years, you will focus on basic science courses such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology. The final two years involve clinical rotations in various medical specialties.

Step 4: Complete a Residency Program
After graduating from medical school, you will need to complete a residency program in pathology. This typically takes three to four years and involves hands-on training in diagnosing and treating diseases through laboratory testing, autopsies, and other procedures. You will also learn how to communicate effectively with other healthcare professionals.

Step 5: Consider Fellowship
After completing your residency, you may choose to specialize in a particular area of pathology such as forensic pathology, dermatopathology, or cytopathology. This will require additional training and certification.

Step 6: Obtain Licensure and Board Certification
All physicians must be licensed to practice medicine in their state. This involves passing a licensing exam, which varies by state. In addition, you may choose to obtain certification in pathology from the American Board of Pathology.

Step 7: Continue Your Education and Stay Current
Pathology is a rapidly changing field, so it is important to continue your education and stay up-to-date with new developments and technologies. This can involve attending conferences, reading medical journals, and taking continuing education courses.

Step 4


Fellowships are postgraduate training programs that provide specialized education and clinical experience in a particular area of pathology. Here are some common fellowships available for pathologists:

  • Surgical Pathology Fellowship: This fellowship provides additional training in diagnosing and managing surgical pathology cases. Fellows work with experienced pathologists to interpret biopsies and surgical specimens.
  • Hematopathology Fellowship: This fellowship focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of blood and bone marrow disorders. Fellows learn to interpret blood smears, bone marrow biopsies, and other tests used to diagnose hematologic malignancies.
  • Cytopathology Fellowship: This fellowship provides specialized training in diagnosing diseases through the examination of cells. Fellows learn to analyze pap smears, fluid specimens, and fine needle aspiration samples.
  • Dermatopathology Fellowship: This fellowship combines the specialties of dermatology and pathology to diagnose skin disorders. Fellows learn to interpret skin biopsies and work closely with dermatologists.
  • Forensic Pathology Fellowship: This fellowship provides training in investigating and determining the cause of death in cases that require forensic pathology expertise. Fellows work closely with medical examiners and learn to perform autopsies and analyze evidence.
  • Neuropathology Fellowship: This fellowship provides specialized training in diagnosing diseases of the brain and nervous system. Fellows learn to analyze brain biopsies and perform autopsies to diagnose neurological disorders.

To be eligible for a fellowship, you must have completed a residency program in pathology. Fellowships typically last one to two years, depending on the specialty. During this time, fellows work closely with experienced pathologists to gain practical experience and develop their skills.

Fellowships can be highly competitive, and applicants typically need to have a strong academic record and relevant research or clinical experience. However, completing a fellowship can provide valuable specialized training and help pathologists develop expertise in a particular area of pathology.

Step 5


In the United States, licensure requirements for pathologists are set by each individual state's medical board. However, the general requirements for licensure as a pathologist are:

  • Completion of a medical degree from an accredited medical school
  • Completion of a pathology residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA)
  • Passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) to obtain a medical license
  • Passing the American Board of Pathology (ABP) certification examination in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, or both

Additionally, some states may have additional requirements, such as continuing education credits or additional exams. It is important for pathologists to research the specific licensure requirements in the state where they plan to practice.

Step 6

Board Certification

Board certification for pathologists is a process by which pathologists can demonstrate their expertise and knowledge in the field of pathology. The certification process is administered by the American Board of Pathology (ABP) in the United States and is voluntary, although many employers and hospitals require board certification for employment or privileges.

To become board certified in pathology, a pathologist must first complete a pathology residency program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). Then, they must pass a rigorous examination administered by the ABP in one or more of the following subspecialties:

  • Anatomic Pathology
  • Clinical Pathology
  • Cytopathology
  • Hematopathology
  • Medical Microbiology
  • Molecular Genetic Pathology
  • Neuropathology
  • Pediatric Pathology
  • Transfusion Medicine

Board certification in pathology is valid for ten years and requires ongoing participation in continuing medical education (CME) activities to maintain certification.