A pathology assistant is a professional who can work alone or under the supervision of a pathologist in a lab. There is a growing need for pathologist assistants, so this is an excellent career choice for anyone interested in medicine.
What Is a Pathology Assistant?
As a pathology assistant, you will work in a lab setting where you will perform postmortem exams, dissect human tissue, and help determine why a person has died. You will receive training to perform all of the surgical and autopsy functions that occur in a lab. The only thing you will not be trained to do is diagnose the cause of a person’s death.
Once you receive your training, you will work in a sterile lab environment. In such an environment, there’s a lot of exposure to different biological contaminants. Of course, you will receive training on safety and procedural guidelines so that you are less likely to experience an accident like cross-contamination. In short, your job is to perform a variety of tasks in both the laboratory and administrative settings to help ensure that the pathology lab is run both efficiently and professionally.
Pathology Assistant Job Duties
When you work as a pathology assistant, you will act in a supportive role for the lead pathologist. For example, your tasks may include:
- Preparing specimens for examination
- Dissecting human tissue
- Photographing specimens
- Examining body parts that have been surgically removed
- Summarizing patients’ medical records
- Preserving and processing specimens
- Taking X-rays of deceased patients’ organs
- Taking X-rays of surgical specimens
- Preparing tissue for pathologists to examine and test it
- Preparing the lab for examining a deceased patient
- Performing administrative tasks such as writing reports, supervising lab personnel, procuring bio-specimen samples, and budgeting
- Training, supervising, or directing interns
How to Become a Pathology Assistant
While you do not need a medical degree, you will need to undergo intensive training before becoming accredited. This begins with obtaining your bachelor’s degree. Although universities do not offer an undergraduate program in pathology, you should choose courses in medical-related areas such as forensic science, chemistry, biology, and microbiology.
Once you graduate with your bachelor’s degree, you should enroll in a pathologist assistant program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. Such programs typically last two years. You will get a solid foundation in genetics, microbiology, systematic pathology, general pathology, human anatomy, and forensic photography. Also, you will learn about immunology, surgical pathology, and clinical techniques. Not only will you engage in textbook learning, but you will also get hands-on experience through pathology labs and clinical rotations.
Upon completing the program, you will be qualified for certification. Although this is not a requirement, it does allow you to work for a wider variety of employers and offers an increased salary. To become a certified pathology assistant, you will need to pass the certification exam given by the American Society for Clinical Pathology. You must take the test within five years of completing your accredited program. Once you pass it, you will need to earn 45 continuing education credits every three years to maintain your certification.
Another way to boost your salary as a pathology assistant is to join a professional organization such as the American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants or the American Society for Clinical Pathology. Doing so will also open up more employment opportunities for you.