In the intricate web of healthcare, pathology plays a fundamental role in examining samples to pinpoint the presence of abnormal cells to identify the underlying causes of diseases. And, as cancer and other diseases continue to rise, so does the need for accurate and timely diagnosis. Moreover, pathology is a gratifying and fulfilling career that offers exciting opportunities that blend various subspecialties to uncover new insights into diseases and treatment modalities.   

Whether you’re a student exploring career options in pathology or a pathologist looking to change careers, read along as we discuss nine different careers in pathology, including their duties, educational path and work environments. 

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What Is Pathology?

Pathology is a medical science branch with a focus on diagnosing diseases. As such, its primary role is to identify the causes, processes, and effects of diseases affecting the human body. As the bridge between medicine and science, pathology is critical in determining the severity of diseases, the treatment protocol to attack or prevent them.

Pathology encompasses four subspecialties: anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, forensic pathology, and chemical pathology. Each of them focuses on a different aspect of disease diagnosis and treatment. 

What Does a Pathologist Do?

Pathologists are medical professionals tasked in diagnosing and managing diseases and other health-related issues. They do so by examining bodily fluids, tissues, and organs.

Some of their core responsibilities include:

  • Analyzing samples of tissues on a microscope taken during surgery; 
  • Testing pap smears for precancerous lesions and cervical cancer;
  • Looking for malignancies in lymph nodes through fine needle aspiration;
  • Managing hospital labs and clinical facilities. 

To identify and diagnose diseases, pathologists utilize a variety of diagnostic procedures, such as:

  • Gross examination,
  • Immunofluorescence, 
  • Electron microscopy,
  • Lab cultures,
  • Biopsies, 
  • Blood tests,
  • Molecular analysis. 

9 Options for a Career in Pathology

As a diverse field, pathology offers a broad range of career options in different areas of medicine. Here are nine career options within the field of pathology. 


Cytopathologists are anatomic pathologists specializing in diagnosing human diseases at a cellular level. They study the cells obtained by body secretions and fluids, such as scraping, aspirating a tumor mass with a needle, or sponging the surface of a lesion.

Moreover, cytopathologists are responsible for collecting, processing, and examining sample cells. They also serve as consultants and share the diagnostic results with a patient’s primary care team.

To become a cytopathologist you need to: 

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
  2. Complete an M.D. or D.O. medical degree
  3. Complete an anatomic pathology or anatomic and clinical pathology residency
  4. Pursue a cytopathology fellowship
  5. Become board-certified by the American Board of Pathology (ABP). 

As a cytopathologist, you can work in hospitals, laboratories, and universities.

Forensic pathologist

Forensic pathologists are medical professionals called by the authorities or courts to investigate unexpected, violent, or suspicious deaths. Their typical tasks include:

  • Carrying out autopsies;
  • Issuing death certificates;
  • Identifying the cause of death and how injuries led to death;
  • Giving courtroom testimony;
  • Collaborating with investigators, toxicologists, and forensic dentists. 

The steps to becoming a forensic pathologist include: 

  1. Earning a bachelor’s degree
  2. Completing either an M.D. or D.O. medical degree
  3. Completing an anatomic pathology residency
  4. Pursuing a forensic pathology fellowship
  5. Becoming board-certified by the ABP. 

Working as a forensic pathologist can be intense, sometimes clocking in over 60 working hours, depending on whether they have to travel to crime scenes to assist in investigations. In general, they work in hospitals, coroner offices, universities, federal government agencies, and as consultants in private medical groups.. 

Molecular pathologist

Molecular pathologists are medical professionals specializing in disease function at the molecular level. Their work focuses on understanding how the presence of a chemical compound may increase a patient’s risk of developing a disease. Typically, molecular pathologists spend their days collecting blood, tissue or body fluid for testing, analyzing data to diagnose illnesses, conducting genetic testing to detect genetic disorders or mutations, and more. 

The educational steps for becoming a molecular pathologist include;

  1. Earning a bachelor’s degree in biology, microbiology, or chemistry
  2. Completing an M.D. or D.O medical degree
  3. Completing a pathology residency program
  4. Pursuing a fellowship program in molecular genetic fellowship
  5. Obtaining board certification from ABP.

Generally, molecular pathologists have a regular workweek, with an exception of those working in hospital laboratories, who may work some nights, weekends, or holidays. In addition to hospitals, molecular pathologists work in academic or independent laboratories. 

Surgical pathologist

Surgical pathologists are medical doctors specializing in the examination of surgically removed tissue to diagnose diseases such as cancer and other conditions. They perform tissue research at the microscopic and macroscopic levels. Moreover, they play a crucial role in assisting physicians in making accurate diagnoses and determining a treatment plan.

Standard procedures surgical pathologists perform include gross examination, intraoperative examination, histochemistry, electron microscopy, and immunohistochemistry. 

Similar to other pathology subspecialties, surgical pathologists go through the same educational path. The only difference is that during their pathology residency program they need specialized training in surgical pathology. 

After completing the educational and training requirements, surgical pathologists usually work in hospitals, universities, and private practices. 

Clinical pathologist

Clinical pathologists are medical professionals analyzing biological, hematological, and immunological samples from blood or other fluids to make a diagnosis. They are instrumental in performing oncology markers and hormonal assays. Moreover, clinical pathologists can be in charge of the special divisions in the pathology department. 

Clinical pathologists follow a similar educational path with other subspecialties. However, on top of the ABP certification, they can obtain certification from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

Their typical work environment includes clinics, hospitals, medical offices, or private practices.


Hematopathologists combine anatomic and clinical pathology, molecular technology, and flow cytometric analysis to look for issues in lymph nodes, bone marrow, and blood. They also read and interpret laboratory test results and recommend or conduct further diagnostic tests. 

The road to becoming a hematopathologist involves:

  1. Earning a bachelor’s degree
  2. Completing an M.D. or D.O. medical degree
  3. Completing a residency in anatomic and clinical pathology residency
  4.  Pursuing a hematopathology fellowship
  5. Getting board-certified from ABP or the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). 

The typical work environment includes hospital and clinical laboratories, research centers, and universities. Those working in a clinical environment help physicians make accurate diagnoses and formulate treatment plans. On the other hand, hematopathologists working in research centers or academia focus on gaining insight into particular diseases and their impact on populations. 

Transfusion medicine specialist

Transfusion medicine specialists focus on all aspects of blood and blood components transfusion and immunohematology.

Their core responsibilities involve:

  • Testing for transfusion-transmitted diseases;
  • Managing and monitoring clinical transfusion practices;
  • Patient blood management;
  • Providing expertise and consultation services on immunohematology. 

The educational journey to becoming a transfusion medicine specialist follows the same path as other pathology subspecialties. The only difference is the opportunity to obtain the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) certification.

Transfusion medicine specialists can work in various settings, such as hospital laboratories, blood donor centers, or cellular therapy laboratories. 

Clinical microbiologist

Clinical microbiologists are medical workers who specialize in studying and identifying microorganisms— such as bacteria and fungi—that cause infectious diseases in humans. They also conduct thorough research to learn how to fight and prevent these infectious diseases. 

The road to becoming a clinical microbiologist includes: 

  1. Earning a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or a related field
  2. Completing a master’s degree on programs focusing in clinical microbiology
  3. Gaining experience either through internships, research, or working as a laboratory technician.
  4. Obtaining certification as a clinical microbiology 

After completing the education and training requirements to become a clinical microbiologist, they can find employment in hospitals, medical centers, federal and state laboratories, universities, and commercial diagnostic laboratories. 

Chemical pathologist

Chemical pathologists are medical professionals who specialize in the biochemical investigation of bodily fluids to understand the cause and progress of disease. They also serve as clinical consultants in diagnosing and treating human diseases. 

Becoming a chemical pathologist includes completing:

  • A bachelor’s degree 
  • An M.D. or D.O. medical degree
  • A residency program in anatomic and clinical pathology
  • A fellowship in clinical chemistry or chemical pathology
  • Board certification from ABP. 

After completing the education and training requirements, chemical pathologists can work in various environments, such as hospitals, research and diagnostic laboratories, and academic institutions.

Key Takeaways

Pathology offers diverse and dynamic career options, from diagnosing diseases at the cellular level to identifying macroscopic abnormalities in tissues. Be it as a forensic pathologist helping uncover crimes or as a hematopathologist identifying issues in blood, lymph nodes, or bone marrow, there’s a path for you in pathology. 

The adventure awaits! Join the ranks of our highly skilled students and take the first steps in a fulfilling career in pathology, where each diagnosis makes a difference.

Frequently Asked Questions

What undergraduate major should I pursue to become a pathologist?

There are no specific major requirements to become a pathologist. However, you must choose a major that allows you to complete the prerequisite courses (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.) needed for medical school. While a pre-med degree is a good option regardless of the pathology specialization, a bachelor’s degree in forensic science will be more suitable for becoming a forensic pathologist.  

How competitive is the pathologist job market?

Although the pathologist job market was competitive before COVID-19, today it is booming even more so. The demand for pathologists is due to retirement of pathologists, the increased testing demand, and the fewer new residents entering practice. In 2023, out of 613 residency positions offered,  607 were filled.. 

What is the highest-paid pathology subspecialty?

Working as a pathologist allows you to benefit from the high compensation. According to BLS data, the average salary is $252,850. However, the highest-paid pathology subspecialty is neuropathology, with professionals of this subspeciality making an average of $286,732 annually. 

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