A pathologist has a varied, interesting and challenging role. As a pathologist you’d work with medical professionals to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses. You would also carry out post-mortem examinations on people who have died in order to determine the cause of death.
If you’re interested in medical research, have good academic abilities and strong communication skills, this could be a role that would suit you. To get into this career, you’ll need a medical degree, then further specialist training.
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1. What does a Pathologist do?
There are five primary areas in which you could choose to work:
- clinical biochemistry/chemical pathology (the study of chemicals in blood)
- haematology (the study of blood disorders)
- histopathology (the study of human disease)
- microbiology and virology (the study of infection)
- immunology (the study of the immune system)
Your daily duties would vary depending on which specialist area you choose, but could include:
- studying patient samples to identify any diseases that are present
- discussing test results with other health professionals and offering advice on further assessments
- screening blood transfusions for safety
- developing vaccines
- researching new treatments
- overseeing and organising lab work and staff
- meeting with other health professionals to discuss test results and treatment of patients
If you train to be a forensic pathologist, you would carry out post-mortem examinations and may be required to attend court to give evidence in murder cases.
2. Working Environment
Your usual hours would be 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday; although some shift work and evenings may be required from time-to-time.
You would work in a laboratory environment, a hospital ward setting or in a clinic. Sometimes, you would be required to work in a mortuary. You’ll wear protective clothing appropriate to what you’re doing; including a face mask, rubber boots, safety goggles and a lab coat.
The average annual salary for a pathologist in the UK is:
-Junior pathologist (first year) £22,636 per annum
-Junior pathologist (second year) £28,076 per annum
-Specialist training period £30,002 per annum
-Qualified pathologist £37,176 - £69,325 per annum
-Consultant pathologist £75,249 - £101,451 per annum
Source: National Careers Service
4. Entry Requirements
In order to become a pathologist, you must complete:
- A degree in medicine (five years)
- A foundation course (two years)
- A specialist training programme (five or six years)
To be accepted onto a medicine degree course, you need at least five good GCSEs above grade ‘C’, and three ‘A’ levels (grades AAA or AAB) that include maths, chemistry, biology or physics. Further information is available at the General Medical Council website. There is a lot of competition for these courses.
If you already have a science degree (2:1 minimum), it’s possible that you could get into this career through a graduate entry programme. In addition to your academic achievements, you’ll also have to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) or the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). You may also be eligible for an NHS Student Bursary to help with the cost of these lengthy studies.
5. Important Skills and Abilities
To be a good pathologist you’ll need:
- an interest in helping people
- great communication skills
- team working skills
- confidence to work alone and under pressure
- ability to recognise visual patterns
- strong problem solving and IT skills
- management skills
- a strong constitution – you may be performing post-mortems
6. Career Progression
Following successful completion of your medical degree, there are two additional stages of training that you’ll need to undertake before you qualify as a pathologist.
You’ll first need to take a two year foundation programme. On completion, you will have full registration with the General Medical Council (GMC), with pathology listed as your specialisation.
Your final training takes five years. This is when you choose which area of pathology you want to specialise in. A good way of getting onto this final stage is to organise a taster session at your hospital’s pathology department. This demonstrates your enthusiasm for the field and allows you to decide whether this is the right step to take. The BMA (British Medical Association) website has more information on speciality training.
Upon successful completion of your specialist training, you could apply for a position as a consultant. Further information about the ongoing medical training you’d be expected to undertake can be found on The Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) website.
7. Job Opportunities
Most pathologists in the UK work for the NHS in hospitals or research facilities. Having qualified, you may find it necessary to relocate if you want to gain a more senior position as competition is very strong. Consultants will find more opportunities overseas and in the private sector.
You could also choose to move into training other health professionals or students; you could manage a team or even a whole department.
Vacancies and opportunities for pathologists are also advertised in The Lancet, and the British Medical Journal.
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A career as a pathologist in the UK is challenging, interesting and very well rewarded. Competition to enter this field is always strong, but if you enjoy academia and are interested in medical research, this could be an ideal career for you, and the hard work and determination you’ll need to succeed will be well-worth the rewards.