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Pathologists are doctors who diagnose disease by examining cells and tissue samples, and sometimes performing autopsies.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £26,350 to £102,500 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 48 per week

1. Entry requirements

To become a doctor specialising in pathology you'll need a:

  • 5-year degree in medicine, recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC)
  • 2-year foundation course of general training
  • 5 or 6-year specialist training programme in pathology

If you don't have qualifications in science, you may be able to take a 6-year degree course in medicine, which includes a one-year pre-medical or foundation year.
If you already have a degree in a science subject (minimum 2:1) you could take a 4-year graduate entry programme into medicine.
When you apply for a course in medicine, you may be asked to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) or the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) to check your suitability for a career in medicine.
You may be able to get NHS funding to pay for your course fees and help with your living expenses.
The Association of Clinical Pathologists has more information about becoming a pathologist. 

The British Medical Association (BMA) has more information about becoming a doctor.

To become a veterinary pathologist, you’ll need to train as a vet. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has more information about becoming a vet.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • excellent communication skills
  • the ability to work under pressure and make quick, accurate decisions
  • to be good at recognising visual patterns
  • good problem solving skills
  • the ability to put people at their ease and inspire trust and confidence

3. What you'll do

You’ll help patients get the treatment they need as early as possible.

You'll specialise in an area like:

  • chemical pathology/clinical biochemistry - studying chemicals in the blood
  • haematology - looking at blood disorders
  • histopathology - studying disease in human tissue
  • medical microbiology and virology - looking at infection
  • immunology - studying the immune system
  • forensic - performing autopsies for medical and legal purposes 

Your day-to-day duties might include:

  • examining the results of blood tests, smear tests and tissue removal
  • explaining test results and giving advice on further medical assessments
  • treating diseases and making sure blood transfusions are safe
  • developing vaccines against infectious diseases and inherited conditions
  • researching and developing new tests and treatments
  • organising work in laboratories and supervising other laboratory staff
  • attending meetings with other health professionals to discuss the treatment of individual patients

4. Salary

Starter: £26,350 to £45,750 (doctors in training)

Experienced: £37,500 to £70,000 (specialty doctors)

Highly Experienced: £76,000 to £102,500 (consultants)

Consultant pathologists working in the private sector may be paid more.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

You’ll work up to 48 hours a week for a full-time post. This will include some evening and weekend work. You may also be on a rota for out-of-hours emergency work.
You’ll be based in a laboratory, clinic or hospital ward.

You’ll wear protective gear like safety goggles, a face mask, rubber boots and a lab coat if you work in a laboratory.
You’ll sometimes need to perform autopsies, which can be upsetting.

6. Career path and progression

With experience, you may go on to lead a team or manage a department.
With experience and entry on the General Medical Council (GMC) Specialist Register, you could apply for senior (or consultant) roles.
You could also progress to teaching and training students, trainee doctors and other healthcare professionals.

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Last updated: 13 September 2018