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Career profile: Pathologist

Career profile: PathologistGet the lowdown on what the job involves, what qualifications you need and how long it takes to train.

A what?

Pathologists specialise in the detection of disease through the use of a variety of investigative techniques. Their work can be vital in finding an accurate and early diagnosis and improving the prospects for treatment. They also play an important role in identifying sources of disease and reducing the possible risks of further spread.

On the job

Pathologists can work in laboratories or with patients in hospitals. They work closely with other doctors and scientists.

Pathologists specialise in one branch of pathology. Branches include:

  • Clinical biochemistry (also known as chemical pathology): using biochemical investigation to diagnose diseases in which the body's chemistry goes wrong, eg diabetes and kidney function.
  • Haematology: looks at diseases of the blood, disorders of blood clotting and problems associated with blood transfusion.
  • Histopathology: studying tissue samples removed for diagnosis, and performing post mortems to determine the cause of death
  • Immunology: the study, diagnosis and management of conditions involving the immune system, eg asthma and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Medical microbiology and virology: the diagnosis, management and control of infection, both relating to individual patients and the community.

Course entry requirements

The first step towards becoming a pathologist is to study for a degree in medicine and qualify as a doctor. Courses last five or six years.

For the five-year medical degree, the majority of medical schools require A-levels in chemistry, whilst others will accept AS level in chemistry, depending upon the other qualifications being offered. Some require biology at A-level.

For candidates without science subjects to offer at A-level (or equivalent), it is possible to undertake an additional pre-medical year at some universities (see section training to be a doctor). The pre-medical year is a preliminary course in chemistry, physics and biology and lasts normally 30 weeks. Other equivalent qualifications can be accepted, such as a BTEC higher national diploma, GNVQs, and the International Baccalaureate.

For candidates without A-levels there are small number of access courses which can lead on into a medical degree.

The entry requirements for degree courses vary a great deal so check with the institution you’re interested in applying to, especially as some do not accept the access course entry route.

What does the training involve?

After your first medical degree there are still a few more years of studying ahead of you.
In the final period of speciality training (four to five years) registrars train in their chosen branch of pathology and take the exams of The Royal College of Pathologists and, in some cases, those of The Royal College of Physicians.

Related links

(Information taken from Connexions)