Preparing for a Career in Pathology: What You Need to Know to Succeed

Laboratory medications

Careers in the healthcare industry can be some of the more rewarding occupational paths to take right out of high school. For those seeking to land a job as a pathologist, this profession is not only one of the more lucrative careers, it also requires a great deal of education and training.

Pathology, like many of the more advanced medical fields, requires many years of schooling. As such, unless you have fully paid scholarships or you’re able to foot the high cost of tuition for more than a decade, you’re going to be in substantial debt upon finally graduating from medical school.

The financial obligations for students are costly no matter which field you decide to go into. But for those entering the medical profession, this can range over a few hundred thousand dollars, and sometimes can be closer to one million.

Here, we’ll discuss the educational path of a pathologist, and what this profession actually entails. 

What is a Pathologist?

A pathologist is a medical doctor (MD), or a DO Physician (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). This is a specialty field which generally requires a focused education on human anatomy and bodily tissue. Pathology is essentially the study of the cause and effect of  injury and disease.

The primary responsibility for a pathologist is to run lab tests in order to help primary healthcare physicians diagnose patients and prescribe treatments or medications. A pathologist may also have subspecialty certifications in several fields, including the following: 

  • Pediatric pathology
  • Neuropathology
  • Medical microbiology
  • Hematology
  • Molecular genetic pathology
  • Forensic pathology 
  • Dermatopathology
  • Cytopathology
  • Chemical pathology

In addition to the aforementioned subspecialties, a pathologist may also focus on clinical information systems and transfusion methodology. They can be found working in hospitals, university settings, government research facilities, and in private practice as well.

FDA Lab 3407 – Photo by: The U.S. Food and Drug Aadministration – Source: Flickr Creative Commons

Education and Training 

A pathologist has one of the longer educational paths needed to attain a career as a pathologist. Not only do you have to attend a 4-year college and earn a Bachelor’s degree in an appropriate field of science, but you also must attend a 4-year medical school. 

In addition to undergraduate and graduate studies, a prospective pathologist must also complete at least 3 years of advanced medical training in a residency program. This last step is essential to be able to take an entrance certification exam through the American Board of Pathology. 

Training may consist of anatomical pathology alongside clinical pathology, but most pathologists are trained in both. Additionally, the American Board of Pathology also provides subspecialty certifications for fields of pathology with a specific focus, such as hematology and other such specialized fields. 

Financial Obligations 

The good news about becoming a pathologist is that you should easily be able to afford to pay off your student debt if you acquired it over the course of your education. The fact is, the average pathologist salary begins at around 300,000 per year, and many can start at a much higher salary depending on the field of specialty and the location. It all boils down to where you find open pathologist positions.

The bad news is that this type of educational path can leave you in debt for having to attend 12 or more years of school. Depending on where you choose to attend, this cost can either be very high or moderate at best, as most programs from beginning to completion average around $200,000, with some reaching over a million dollars. 

When preparing for a career in pathology, it’s critical to think in the long term as far as your financial planning is concerned. If you’re able to set aside any money at all during your education, this will greatly reduce the cost of student loan debt that you have to repay.


A career in pathology can be as rewarding as it is lucrative. Today, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, pathologists are integral assets to the healthcare system. 

It is the pathology field that conducts testing on the effects of this virus, and this is essential for the production of vaccines that protect our human populations. And, you could be in on the most cutting edge science in the world should you choose to pursue this career.

Article edited and fact checked by our editorial team