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
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.
|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.
|Be able to take instruction and listen to what others ask of you and ask questions when appropriate.
|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.
|Must be able to keep your arm steady for a duration while helping your supervisor and doing certain tasks.
|Must be able to see objects in a close proximity so you can perform your duties effectively.
|Must know about natural processes and have an in-depth understanding of Biology and Anatomy.
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
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.
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:
It would be best to consider a premedical program at your University. A typical 4 year course load could look like the following:
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:
First Year - Spring (16 hrs)
First Year - Summer (10 hrs)
First Year - Fall (17 hrs)
Second Year - Spring (11 hrs)
Second Year - Summer (9 hrs)
Second Year - Fall (9 hrs)
--- 2 Year Total - 74 hours
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.
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.
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