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Health Care Providers: Pathologists

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What Is Pathology?

Pathology (peh-THAHL-uh-jee) is the medical specialty that does laboratory studies of surgically removed organs, tissues (from biopsies), and body fluids.

What Is a Pathologist?

A pathologist (peh-THAHL-uh-jist) is a doctor who examines and interprets laboratory samples to diagnose medical conditions such as cancer or an infection. They also do laboratory studies after someone has died to help find the cause of death.

Why Would Someone Need One?

Pathologists diagnose conditions such as:

They also do:

  • autopsies (to find the cause of death)
  • tests on blood, urine, and other body fluids
  • cultures (tests that look for the growth of bacteria or viruses)
  • genetic testing
  • sweat testing for cystic fibrosis

What Is Their Training?

Pathologist training typically includes:

  • 4 years of pre-medical education at a college or university
  • 4 years of medical school — a medical degree (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree
  • 3 years of training in an anatomical or clinical pathology residency

They also might have:

  • expertise in a subspecialty area (for example, pediatric pathology, surgical pathology, forensic pathology, or neuropathology) after 1–2 years in a fellowship program. A “fellow” is a doctor who had more specialty training after completing medical school and a residency.

Good to Know

Pathologists work closely with other doctors such as oncologists, surgeons, and radiologists to help them diagnose medical conditions and guide treatment. Although most pathologists don’t work directly with patients, some do have patient contact for certain treatments (such as blood transfusions) and procedures (such as bone marrow aspirations).

Date reviewed: September 2022