According to the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP), pathology is the medical specialty which “provides a scientific foundation for medical practice.” Pathology entails the analysis and examination of human tissue, bone, and bodily fluids for abnormalities, or evidence of disease or infection. The field of pathology is critical to the accurate diagnosis of patients in a clinical setting, as well as to determine cause of death in the deceased.
A pathologist is a physician (with an M.D. or D.O. medical degree) who leads the examination of the tissue and organ samples and coordinates or communicates with the primary care physician to ultimately determine a diagnosis of disease or cause of death.
There are many different types of pathologists. The least common type of pathologist, but most well-known, thanks to many true-crime TV shows and prime time crime dramas, is the forensic pathologist. The forensic pathologist works in conjunction with police and the coroner’s office to solve homicides and mysterious deaths.
Not all pathologists work to solve crimes.
Others work in a lab, hospital, or morgue, to help confirm disease diagnoses and causes of illness or death. Another type of pathologist is the dermatopathologist, who analyze skin cell samples to diagnose skin cancers and other skin diseases and disorders.
There are also pathologists who specialize in blood analysis, and other subspecialties.
Becoming a pathologist entails one of the lengthiest education and training tracks of all physicians. Requirements include four years of undergraduate study, plus four years of medical school, plus a minimum of four to five years of post-graduate training in pathology residency.
According to the Intersociety Council for Pathology Information, Inc., there are nearly 18,000 actively practicing pathologists in the United States. The average age of retirement is 71 years old. Based on the current number of pathology residents-in-training, pathologist strength will fall by 2030 to 14,800.