Pathologist's Assistant

Pathologist's Assistant Job Description


To work as a pathologists’ assistant (PA), you must complete an intensive training program to become one of these highly trained health professionals. You will work under the instructions and supervision of a licensed pathologist who is board-certified or board-eligible to provide anatomic pathology services.

As a pathologists’ assistant, you’ll not be allowed to make a final diagnosis in a case but you will be qualified to perform surgical procedures and autopsy functions that a pathologist performs.




The pathologists’ assistant may provide the following services under the supervision and direction of a pathologist:

  • Gross description, preparation and dissection of surgical specimens of human tissue

  • Preparations necessary for human post-mortem examinations

  • Instruction in anatomy and physiology

  • Education in gross pathology

  • Anatomical photography

  • Gross dissection skills of surgical specimens

  • Standard autopsy techniques

  • Clinical training of pathologists’ assistant students, residents and fellows in pathology and any other personnel who will be working in the pathology lab

  • Participate in ongoing research

  • Obtain samples used for bio-specimen banking

  • May be required to perform other assigned duties, including administrative, supervisory, budgetary and teaching duties

Because of the wide variety of tasks performed by pathologists’ assistants, these allied health professionals make a significant contribution to the effectiveness and cost efficiency of a pathology practice or a laboratory.




Critical Thinking

Use logic and reasoning to determine the proper solutions to problems. Must think outside the box to come up with alternative approaches to difficult problems.

Active Listening

Be able to take instruction and listen to what others ask of you and ask questions when appropriate.

Equipment Maintenance

Maintain and care for equipment under your care and usage. Determine problems and troubleshoot solutions.


Effectively convey information to patients and co-workers. Must be able to work cohesively with your team.

Arm-Hand Steadiness

Must be able to keep your arm steady for a duration while helping your supervisor and doing certain tasks.

Near Vision

Must be able to see objects in a close proximity so you can perform your duties effectively.
Science Must know about natural processes and have an in-depth understanding of Biology and Anatomy.


Working Conditions


A pathologists’ assistant is expected to perform a wide variety of clinical procedures. The majority of pathologists’ assistants work in academic settings, such as a medical school or university, or a community hospital. Others areas of potential employment include:

  • Private pathology laboratories

  • Morgues

  • Forensic pathology laboratories

  • Governmental health care system laboratories

  • Reference and research laboratories

  • Medical teaching facilities

  • Some pathologists’ assistants may work for themselves as self-employed business owners.

  • These PAs provide pathology services via short-term and long-term contractual agreements.

Job opportunities for pathologists’ assistants are available all over the United States, as well as in foreign markets such as Australia and Canada. Projected job availability puts pathologists’ assistants as one of the better job prospects for the foreseeable future.



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:


Grade Level Example Courses

Freshman Year


  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Biology & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • English 101
  • English 102
  • Humanities Requirement
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab

Sophomore Year

  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology 
  • Humanities Requirement
  • Electives

Junior Year


  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • Physics
  • Electives

Senior Year

  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Upper Level Kinesiology 
  • Electives


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:

Grade Level Example Courses

First Year - 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

First Year - Summer (10 hrs)

  • Mechanisms of Disease - 8 hours
  • Clinical Pathology Seminar - 2 hours

First Year - 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

Second Year - Spring (11 hrs)


  • Path Assistant Practicum I  - 9 hours
  • Pathology Review I - 2 hours

Second Year - Summer (9 hrs)

  •  Path Assistance Practicum II - 9 hours

Second Year - Fall (9 hrs)

  • Path Assistant Practicum III - 7 hours
  • Pathology Review II - 2 hours

 --- 2 Year Total - 74 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. 



Salary Outlook