Pathologists work with doctors, nurses and other medical specialists to diagnose and treat illness.
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What does a pathologist do?

Pathologists study disease by examining cells and tissue samples to see if disease is present. A small part of the role may involve performing autopsies on dead bodies to discover the cause of death, if you choose to specialise in forensic pathology. Pathologists will work in one of five main areas:

  • chemical pathology/clinical biochemistry – study of chemicals in the blood
  • haematology – study of disorders of the blood
  • histopathology – study of disease in human tissue
  • medical microbiology and virology – study of infection
  • immunology – study of the immune system

Forensic pathologists specialise in performing autopsies for medical and legal purposes and may attend court to give evidence in criminal cases. Forensic pathologists distinguish between accidental death, suicide and murder. 

Veterinary pathologists specialise in investigating animal disease, but this requires training as a vet before specialising in pathology.​​

What do I need to do to become a pathologist?

To do this job, you need to be interested in medical research and the study of disease. To become a consultant pathologist, you'll need to complete a five year degree in medicine. You'll then take a two year foundation programme of general training, followed by specialist training, which lasts between five and six years.​​​

Other routes to work in pathology are as follows:

  1. As a clinical scientist
    Clinical scientists are graduates, usually with a first or upper second class honours degree in a subject like biochemistry, and often with a PhD. If you would like to work as a clinical scientist in a pathology speciality, you can apply for entry to a Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST) programme, following completion of the Practitioner Training Programme (PTP), or the Scientist Training Programme (STP).
  2. As a biomedical scientist

    Biomedical scientists are graduates in science. Training from here on takes up to two years. For further information regarding biomedical scientist training, please see The Institute of Biomedical Science’s website.

(Source: The Royal College of Pathologists)

Related skills

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • People management
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork

Academic route

  • Five GCSEs (A*-C), including English, maths, and science
  • Three A levels at grades AAA/AAB in subjects such as chemistry, biology and either physics or maths

Related subjects

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Maths
  • Physics

Essential qualifications

  • A five-year degree in medicine, recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC)
  • A two-year foundation course of general training
  • A five or six-year specialist training programme in pathology

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

The majority of pathologists work for the NHS in hospitals, as well as in research laboratories. 

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