How to Become a Pathologists' Assistant

How to Become a Pathologist's Assistant

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

The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) has given its approval to 10 pathologists’ assistant programs. All of these programs, with the exception of one, requires a bachelor’s degree in a science field.

  • Required undergraduate courses usually include:
  • Biological sciences, with human anatomy and physiology preferred
  • General chemistry
  • Organic or biochemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Mathematics, with statistics strongly recommended
  • English composition

It would be best to consider a premedical program at your university. A typical 4 year course load could look like the following:

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.

2. Complete a Pathologists' Assistant Program (2 Years)

A pathologists’ assistant program takes approximately two years to complete. This includes intensive training and culminates in a master’s degree. One of the accredited programs currently offers a bachelor’s degree as well.

The first year of training consists of classroom and lecture settings. The second year requires clinical/clerkship rotations for hands-on experience in a hospital or laboratory.

Typical program curriculum can look like the following:

Year Example Courses
1st - Spring (16 hrs) 
  • Human Anatomy for Path. Asst. - 6 hours
  • Anatomical Pathology Techniques - 4 hours
  • Introduction to Disease Mechanisms - 4 hours
  • Histology - 3 hours Educational Methodologies - 1 hour
1st - Spring (10 hrs)
  • Mechanisms of Disease - 8 hours
  • ClinicalPathology Seminar - 2 hours
1st - Fall (17 hrs) 
  • Fundamentals of Physiology - 5 hours
  • Microbiology - 5 hours
  • Medical Laboratory Management - 2 hours
  • Advanced Microanatomy - 2 hours
  • Autopsy and Surgical Procedures - 3 hours
2nd - Spring (11 hrs) 
  • Path Assistant Practicum I - 9 hours
  • Pathology Review I - 2 hours
2nd - Spring (9 hrs) 
  • Path Assistance Practicum II - 9 hours
2nd - Spring (9 hrs) 
  • Path Assistant Practicum III - 7 hours
  • Pathology Review II - 2 hours

3. Earn the Required Certification

National Certification for Pathologists’ Assistants was achieved in 2004 through the efforts of the American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants (AAPA) and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

In order to earn a PA or ASCP designation, graduation from a pathologists’ assistant program that is accredited by the NAACLS is now required.

The graduate must then successfully complete the examination for ASCP board certification.

4. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education

As a certified pathologists’ assistant, you will be required to demonstrate sufficient continuing medical education to maintain your certification.

You must complete continuing education and re-certify every 3 years. ASCP requires 45 Continuing Education credits for every three-year period of certification.

Those must include at least one credit in safety and twenty credits in anatomic pathology. An ASCP renewal form must be sent to ASCP two months before the end of your 3 year period.