How to Become a Pathologist

How to Become a Pathologist

Pathologists must first complete the required four years of medical school before beginning their training as residents. This residency period may last for an additional four to five years, after which they will be eligible to take examinations for board certifications.

At this point, many pathologists may also undertake additional training in a chosen subspecialty. To become a pathologist, you first have to become a doctor which means, undergrad, medical school, residency, and fellowships where you specialize in pathology.

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

Since you must get into medical school, it would be best to major in premed during your undergrad. You will need pre-requisites heavy in science and math, so your undergrad course load might look like the following:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • Biology & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • Physics
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Upper Level Kinesiology
  • Remaining Requirements & Electives

Be sure to keep your grads high, as medical school admissions are very competitive. You need to start prepping for the MCAT as well, because you need to take it to advance.

2. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.

The MCAT is divided into four sections:

Section Section Breakdown
Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • 52 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes
  • Tess reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the MCAT website. If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.

3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)

You have two program choices in medical school to become a pathologist: a Doctor of Medicine (MD) program or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program.

Each degree focuses on the same methods of treatment, but a DO degree also focuses on osteopathic manipulative medicine. Whichever path you choose, you are facing 4-5 years in medical school.

Your first couple of years will focus on the following:

  • Basic pathology
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Other life sciences

In the second half of the program, you will work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to advance your skills and go through clinical rotations where you will be exposed to different areas of medicine.

Here, you can take a pathology rotation as an elective and get acquainted to the line of work. You can also participate in research programs, if you get the invitation.

4. Earn the Required License

After you complete medical school you have to apply for your medical license and board certification. If you graduate from a MD program, you can take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

If you graduate from a DO program, you can take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).

5. Complete a Pathology Residency Program

After medical school, you have to complete your residency, which typically last 4 years. During this time, you will be supervised by other healthcare professionals and get hands on training to build upon your skills and confidence, to allow you independent practice.

During your residency, you can expect to work from anywhere to three to eight years in a clinical or hospital setting. It's here you can really hone in on your skills and build upon your knowledge.

A pathology residency program includes the following training:

  • Anatomic and/or Clinical Pathology
  • Instruction in autopsy
  • Image analysis
  • Cytogenetics
  • Molecular diagnostics
  • Protein biochemistry

You can also participate in research during this time where you can be exposed to more of what you will do as a pathologist.

As you move through the program you will be given more freedom and allowed to make decisions and act more autonomously.

You get a stipend during your residency that grows with each year in the program. You can find accredited residencies and fellowships through the American Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

6. Complete a Fellowship Program (2 Years)

If you want to specialize in areas such as dermopathology, surgical pathology or pediatric pathology, you need to complete a fellowship.

The programs usually last up to two years and provide in-depth, focused training in your chosen area. Here is where you can perform research specific to your field and interests and get involved in rotations that show you more specific areas related to your field.

7. Earn the Required Certification

After you complete your training, you will need to become certified through the American Board of Pathology (ABP).

You must first hold your medical degree, and have all your required specialty training hours completed. Then you must take either the Anatomic Pathology Examination or the Clinical Pathology Examination to receive your certification.

8. Maintain Certification with Continuing Education

After all the school, training, tests, and time, you have to earn continuing education credits and maintain your certification as a Pathologist. You have to complete a Maintenance of Certification Program (MOC) in a 10 year cycle.

The program includes the following:

Part I – Professionalism and Professional Standing

  • Must hold a valid, unrestricted medical license and meet the ABP’s professionalism expectations.

Part II – Lifelong Learning and Self-Assessment

  • Must meet the ABP’s learning and self-assessment requirements

Part III – Assessment of Knowledge, Judgment, and Skills

  • Must assess their pathology specific knowledge, judgment, and skills by passing a secure examination during every 10-year MOC cycle

Part IV – Improvement in Medical Practice

  • Must engage in specialty relevant performance-in-practice assessment and improvement activities.