I want a career in...
If you’re looking to start a career in pathology, the first thing to remember is that general ‘pathologists’ don’t really exist! That’s because pathologists don’t all do the same job, and instead specialise within a specific field.
There are 23 different specialties you can work in, each with a different appeal and combination of laboratory and clinical work. Of these specialties, there are four main ones:
- chemical pathology – the study of the biochemical basis of disease
- haematology – the study of disorders of the blood
- histopathology – the study of disease in human tissue
- medical microbiology – the study of infection.
There are other smaller specialties, all of which are growing in importance. These include molecular genetics, toxicology and histocompatibility and immunogenetics.
Choosing your role
Across the specialities, there are three main career paths or ‘roles’ that you can choose.
1. Consultant Pathologist
An expert in a specific field of pathology, such a haematology or histopathology. They manage a clinical or scientific service such as cancer screening, blood testing or microbiology. They advise other medical professionals, such as GPs, and provide training for other medical professionals. They may also undertake research into things like finding cures to diseases and infections.
How to qualify?
- 5 years medicine degree
- 2 years foundation training programme
- 6 years specialising to qualify as a consultant
2. Clinical Scientist
Often work solely in the laboratory, mainly on diagnosis but sometimes on research and development to improve pathology testing, determining the cause and nature of disease. They use a variety of tools to diagnose disease including traditional lab techniques such as microscopy, as well as state-of-the-art robotics or sequencing technology. Clinical scientists can work their way up to managing an entire laboratory as well as providing training to other medical professionals.
How to qualify?
- 3 years science degree – usually with a first or upper second honours degree in a subject like biochemistry, and often with a PhD
- Practitioner Training Programme (PTP) or the Scientist Training Programme (STP)
- Higher Specialist Scientific Training (HSST)
3. Biomedical Scientist
Will be responsible for the ‘cut up’ and looking after slides. Biomedical scientists provide the scientific information that other medical professionals which will use to allow them to make informed medical decisions. Working under the supervision of a consultant pathologist, they will measure chemicals to monitor patient condition, match blood to patients and ensure blood stocks are adequate at critical times. They look at tumour samples to investigate disease, and identify micro-organisms that help fight against infection.
How to qualify?
- GCSE mathematics
- A levels in biology and/or chemistry
- 3 years science degree (IBMS accredited)
- Register with HCPC to qualify as a Biomedical Scientist (protected title)
Find out more
If you’re interested in working in these roles, read more about what qualifications and training you’ll need. Not sure what you’d like to specialise in yet? Explore some key areas of pathology below.