How to Become a Pathology Assistant

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Pathology is an important part of the medical field that deals with examining bodily fluids, organs, and tissues to diagnose diseases and conditions. Pathology assistants are specially trained medical personnel that assist pathologists in pathology procedures to ensure the overall efficiency and function of the pathology practice or laboratory.

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What does a pathology assistant do?

Pathology assistants (also called pathologist’s assistants) assist with anatomical and pathology procedures under the direct supervision of pathologists. They help pathologists perform a variety of tasks such as autopsies, surgical resections, tissue banking, and examining surgical pathology specimens. They obtain clinical histories, prepare tissues for histological processing, dissect and prepare specimens, photograph specimens, perform postmortem examinations, and sterilize equipment. They also help examine bodily fluids and biopsies and run diagnostic tests to diagnose diseases and conditions. Pathology assistants also help organize and file paperwork, issue pathology reports, maintain schedules, and keep accurate medical records. Some pathology assistants teach courses in human anatomy and physiology, gross pathology, or other related area.

What kind of training does a pathology assistant need?

Pathology assistants must graduate from an accredited pathology assistant program. Most pathology assistants have a bachelor degree in a science related area and some employers prefer applicants with a master degree. Coursework includes anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, histology, general and clinical pathology, and microbiology. Pathology assistants must stay up to date on the latest advances in the field.

Some states require pathology assistants to be licensed. Pathology assistants can gain certification from the American Association of Pathologists Assistants (AAPA) or the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP). Certification requirements include completion of an accredited pathology assistant program, minimum experience, and passing a written examination. Pathology assistants must complete continuing education courses to maintain their certifications.

What are the prospects for a career as a pathology assistant?

Employment of all physician assistants (including pathology assistants) is expected to grow much faster than average for all professions, increasing 27% from 2006 to 2016 (1). The rising demand for pathology services will fuel job growth.

Job prospects are expected to be good especially in rural and inner-city areas. Job openings will also arise from the need to replace pathology assistants that retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do pathology assistants make?

As of October 2009, the middle 50% of pathology assistants earned average annual salaries between $66,305 and $87,138. The top 10% earned average annual salaries of more than $94,539 (2).

A career as a pathology assistant is an excellent choice for individuals who are interested in pathology and providing assistance to pathologists and other medical personnel. Pathology assistants must have excellent eye-hand coordination, patience, and great problem solving skills. Excellent organization, efficiency, analytical thinking, and paying close attention to detail are essential. Pathology assistants must also have great communication and interpersonal skills and be able to work efficiently as part of a team and independently.

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