If you have ever seen a doctor about an illness, chances are you have benefited from the services of a pathologist. However, you probably never saw the pathologist. So, what is pathology, and what does a pathologist do?

Pathology is the study of the causes, nature, and effects of the disease. You may be wondering: what is a pathology doctor called? A pathology doctor is called a pathologist. Both pathology and pathologist come from the Greek word pathos, meaning suffering. To answer the question:what’s a pathologist? A pathologist is a medical doctor with additional training in laboratory techniques used to study disease. Pathologists may work in a lab alongside scientists with special medical training. Pathologists study tissues and other materials taken from the body. They analyze these items to diagnose illness, monitor ongoing medical conditions, and to help guide treatment.

A pathologist is a vital part of any patient’s care team. And yet, the pathologist may be largely invisible to the patient. That’s because much of a pathologist’s work is conducted in the lab. There, a pathologist draws on medical knowledge and a detective’s passion for mystery to put together the picture of an illness.


A pathologist studies fluids, tissues, or organs taken from the body. Pathologists often work with a surgically removed sample of diseased tissue, called a biopsy. The pathological examination of an entire body is an autopsy.

Pathologists are often involved in the diagnosis of illness. A pathologist may examine a sample of tissue for a virus, bacteria, or other infectious agents. The vast majority of cancer diagnoses are made by, or in conjunction with, a pathologist.

Pathologists may also help guide the course of treatment. For example, a pathologist may analyze blood samples, helping to monitor and track the progression of a bloodborne illness.

Modern pathologists have more than microscopes at their disposal. They may use genetic studies and gene markers to diagnose a hereditary condition.

Much of a pathologist’s work culminates in the form of a pathology report. In such a report, the pathologist details the analysis of samples sent to the lab by a doctor or other professional, meticulously laying out their findings.


Because pathologists often play a behind-the-scenes role, even medical students may find themselves wondering exactly what is pathology and how to go about becoming a pathologist. A pathologist's education begins with a four-year undergraduate degree. The next step is four years of education at a quality medical school.

There is no such thing as a pathology degree. Rather, the aspiring pathologist generally must undertake a residency. During residency, future pathologists study and practice pathology under the training of experts in the field.

Pathology is sometimes divided into anatomical pathology and clinical pathology. Anatomical pathology involves the analysis of body organs and tissues. Clinical pathology involves the analysis of body fluids, such as blood and urine.

A doctor may be able to complete a residency in either anatomical pathology or clinical pathology in three years. Combined anatomical and clinical residencies may take four years or more. The final step to becoming a pathologist is passing a board certification exam.


As a specialty, pathology tends to attract critical thinkers and problem solvers. Pathologists tend to be methodical, step-wise thinkers with an eye for recognizing patterns in evidence.

Many doctors spend most of the day seeing patients. Pathologists, on the other hand, generally spend most time in the lab. As a result, pathologists tend to enjoy more regular hours and better work/life balance than many other specialties.

Many pathologists work in hospital laboratories or in independent labs. Others work in academic institutions or private practice. A typical day for a pathologist might begin with taking in samples for analysis and planning experiments. The middle of the day might involve working with lab equipment to analyze samples and refine results. The afternoon might be spent communicating results to other members of the treatment team.

Several factors are driving the need for more pathologists. The population is getting larger. The population is also aging. Both these trends are increasing the demand for all medical services, including pathology.
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