A pathology assistant is a highly trained professional who can work alone or under the supervision of a more experienced pathologist in a lab setting. There is a growing need for pathologist assistants. Therefore this is a great career for anyone with an interest in medicine.
What a Pathology Assistant Is
As a pathology assistant, you will work in a lab setting where you will:
- Perform postmortem exams
- Dissect human tissue
- Help determine why a person has died
As a pathology assistant, 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. This is a work environment where you will be exposed to a lot of different biological contaminants. Of course, you will be trained on safety and procedural guidelines so that you are less likely to have an accident. 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 working both efficiently and professionally.
What a Pathology Assistant Does
When you work as a pathology assistant, you will act in a supportive role for the lead pathologist. Some of your tasks will 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 to be examined and tested pathologically
- 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. We recommend courses in 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. You will also 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 larger variety of employers. With the certification, the wages for professionals are higher. To become a certified pathology assistant, you will need to pass the certification exam given by the American Society for Clinical Pathology. This test must be taken within 5 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 of a pathology assistant is to join a professional organization. We recommend joining the American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants or the American Society for Clinical Pathology. Doing so will also open more employment opportunities for you.