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How to Become a Pathologist in 2023

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by Yousmle Staff in Residency

Do you want to know how to become a pathologist? Are you interested in a medical career that provides not only patient care but also offers unique opportunities for medical research and a chance to be on the cutting edge of modern medicine?

If so, a pathology career may be the perfect choice for you. In this blog post, I will explain what a pathologist does and how to become one, even if you’re only in high school.


  • Pathologists specialize in the study of diseases and their underlying mechanisms
  • Pathology residency training is four years, with the option of fellowship training afterward
  • Going to a top medical school may help a bit. However, how you do on your USMLEs (Board) scores and in your med school class ranking will matter more
  • Non-PhD degrees like MBAs and MPHs appear to have no advantage to becoming a pathologist (and maybe a slight disadvantage)

Table of Contents

What Are Pathologists?

Pathologists specialize in the study of diseases by examining tissues, cells, and bodily fluids to determine their nature, cause, and progression; therefore, they are often involved in the diagnosis of diseases, as well as in the treatment and management of diseases.

In addition to examining tissues and fluids, pathologists may also be involved in developing new treatments and therapies. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as surgeons and oncologists, to provide the best possible care for patients.

Pathologists are often referred to as “the doctor’s doctor” since they assist the patient’s physician in making or confirming a diagnosis.  Instead of providing direct patient care, pathologists use laboratory and diagnostic tests to diagnose diseases and determine treatment options.

Is a Pathologist a Doctor?

Are pathologists doctors? The answer to this question is yes; pathologists are doctors.

A pathologist is a specialized physician who has completed medical school, usually followed by a four-year residency in pathology. During this time, the pathologist trains to examine tissues, cells, blood, and other bodily fluids samples to determine the nature of the disease, including its cause.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Pathologist?

Becoming a pathologist is no easy feat and requires considerable time and energy. But if you’re up to the challenge, the results can be gratifying.

It takes a minimum of 12 years after high school to become a pathologist. That includes four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and four years of a pathology residency. Along the way, you’ll have to take various standardized exams, including the SAT, the MCAT, and the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK.

Undergraduate (4 Years)

The first step to becoming a pathologist is entering and completing an undergraduate program. This means taking the SATs and doing well enough to be accepted into a college or university. Once accepted into an undergraduate program, you’ll have to complete at least four years of academic coursework. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and other general education courses.

Medical School (4 Years)

The next step is to take the MCAT, a standardized exam that measures your knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You’ll need to score well on the MCAT for med school acceptance.

You’ll have to complete four years of academic and clinical training during medical school. This includes classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical topics. You’ll also have to complete clinical rotations at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to gain hands-on experience.

Pathology Residency (4 Years)

After you’ve completed medical school, you’ll have to match into a pathology residency. You’ll have to take the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams to do this. These exams measure your knowledge and skills in the areas of clinical medicine. Once you’ve passed these exams, you’ll be eligible to apply for residency.

Once you’ve matched into a pathology residency, you’ll have to complete four years of clinical training to become a pathologist. During this training period, you’ll learn how to diagnose diseases using laboratory and diagnostic tests. You’ll also gain experience in autopsy pathology, surgical pathology, and laboratory management.

Fellowship (Optional; Usually 1-2 Years)

After completing your pathology residency, you may pursue further training in a specialized area of pathology. Pathology fellowships allow physicians to gain subspecialty expertise. Fellowship choices include forensic pathology, hematopathology, or molecular pathology. Most pathology fellowships last for one or two years, allowing physicians to gain additional experience and hone their skills in a specific area of pathology.

After Pathology Residency: Licensing + Board Certification

Upon completing your residency, you’ll be eligible to apply for a medical license, a requirement for practice. You’ll also be able to take the Pathology Board Exam to become a board-certified pathologist. While passing the pathology boards is voluntary, many employers will see this as important – or even necessary – for you to be employed as a pathologist.

Becoming a pathologist takes a minimum of 12 years after high school. It’s a long and arduous process, but the rewards are worth it if you’re dedicated and passionate about becoming a pathologist.

How Competitive is it to Become a Pathologist?

Pathology is one of the less competitive specialties in matching into a residency program. Each year, thousands of hopeful medical school graduates apply for a limited number of positions in their preferred specialty. The Match system, run by the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), pairs applicants with training programs based on their preferences.

But how competitive is pathology in the US? To answer this question, looking at the unmatched rates of US seniors by specialty is important. The unmatched rate refers to the percentage of US seniors who applied for a residency program in that specialty but did not get matched. It considers each applicant’s first-choice specialty. So, if you applied to a different specialty as a “backup” but didn’t match because you matched in your first choice, this wouldn’t be included. To learn more about how to maximize your chances at a dream residency through “The Match,” see this article.

In the 2022 Match, graduating US medical school seniors attending MD schools had a 2.6% unmatched rate to pathology. This makes it one of the less competitive specialties, unlike other more competitive specialties like plastic surgery (unmatched % 37.3%), orthopedic surgery (34.2%), or otolaryngology (sometimes called “ENT” for ear-nose-throat; 30.8%).

For more on the competitiveness of pathology relative to other medical specialties, see this article.

Pathologist Annual Compensation

Pathologists have an average annual salary of $334,000. However, this can vary dramatically based on practice setting, specialty training, and experience level.

Pathologist Annual Salary

Pathologists make $334,000 per year on average

How Much Do Pathologists Make an Hour?

You may also be wondering, how much do pathologists make per hour? And how is the balance between time inside vs. outside the hospital for the specialty?

While there isn’t perfect data, we’ve compiled data about hours/weeks worked and annual salary for various specialties, including pathology.

Here are the data:

Average Annual SalaryAverage Hourly SalaryOn-Call ScheduleHours/WeekAvg Weeks Worked/Year
Critical Care$369,000.00$114.9166.9
Diagnostic Radiology$437,000.00$170.46Low5844.2
Emergency Medicine$373,000.00$169.59Medium46.447.4
Family Medicine$255,000.00$101.85Medium52.647.6
General Surgery$402,000.00$141.88High59.447.7
Infectious Diseases$260,000.00$101.44High53.4
Internal Medicine$264,000.00$100.81Medium54.947.7
Interventional Radiology$437,000.00
Neurological Surgery (Assistant Prof. Median)$600,500.00$214.96Medium58.2
Obstetrics and Gynecology$336,000.00$123.26Medium5847
Orthopaedic Surgery$557,000.00$207.91Medium5747
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation$322,000.00$147.7645.4
Plastic Surgery$576,000.00$230.77Medium52
Pulmonary Med$353,000.00$119.77Medium61.4
Radiation Oncology (Assistant Prof. Median)$393,734.00$158.36Low51.8
Total Average$381,233.35$147.4453.9

And the estimated physician salary per hour by specialty (pathology highlighted in red):

Pathologist Hourly Salary

Pathologists make $147 an hour on average

Note: when data were unavailable for weeks worked per year, 48 weeks was used as an estimate to calculate the estimated hourly salary.

Getting AOA (Med School Honors) Helps in Becoming a Pathologist

Medical school is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a doctor. Many medical schools have established Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) branches to recognize top students’ hard work and dedication.

Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) is the medical school honors society for students who excel in their studies and demonstrate an exemplary commitment to professionalism and leadership. Each medical school may elect up to 20% of their graduating class to be inducted into AOA.

Induction into AOA is a prestigious honor that carries with it a variety of benefits. AOA members may be eligible for special scholarships and fellowships and can often receive priority consideration for residency positions.

The AOA advantage is particularly notable for the most competitive fields and/or residency programs. The 2022 Match data showed that the match rate for US medical school seniors with AOA membership was 2% greater than that of US seniors without AOA membership in pathology. In other words, AOA membership provided a modest advantage to matching into a pathology residency.

AOA Membership Advantage for Pathology 2022

AOA membership correlated with a 2% match rate advantage for Pathology in the 2022 Match

See this article for more on AOA medical schools and the importance of class rank for matching.

Do You Need to Attend a Top School to Become a Pathologist?

When pursuing a career in pathology, attending a top medical school can make a difference in matching into your desired specialty. According to a survey of program directors, over half of those surveyed reported considering applicants’ med school reputation when considering whom to interview, giving it an importance score of 3.8 out of 5.

Moreover, graduating from a school in the top 40 for NIH funding is associated with a 2% increase in the likelihood of matching into pathology as a field. This is potentially because top medical schools have more resources and access to clinical experience, which can help prepare students for the rigors of the specialty.

That said, it is important to remember that the name of the school alone does not guarantee success in any field. While attending a top medical school may have advantages, it is ultimately up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities presented. And while there is an advantage to being from a more prestigious institution, one’s record at the school will matter much more, including things like USMLE scores, class rank, and letters of recommendation.

Top 40 med school Pathology match 2022

Graduating from a medical school ranked in the top 40 by NIH funding correlated with a 2% match rate advantage for Pathology in the 2022 Match

Does an MPH or MBA Help You Become a Pathologist?

Medical training is long and arduous. Remarkably, many students consider completing other degrees before, after, or even while pursuing their medical studies. Degrees such as Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) may seem attractive to potential pathology residents due to their additional qualifications. But do these additional degrees give applicants an edge in the residency application process?

The truth is that having an additional degree may not matter as much as one thinks. We crunched the numbers on the match rate for graduating students from MD schools for those with non-PhD other degrees vs. those that did not have a second degree. In pathology, the match rate was 2% lower for those with degrees like an MPH or MBA. This implies that having a second degree that isn’t a Ph.D. doesn’t appear to help your chances of matching into pathology and may even hurt them (slightly).

Pathology other degree MBA MPH advantage 2022

Having another degree like an MBA or MPH correlated with a -2% match rate disadvantage for Pathology in the 2022 Match

It’s important to note that this study only looked at the overall match rates of medical students with another degree. The data doesn’t look at the type of degree, the school it was obtained from, and the quality of the applicant’s experience and credentials.

Having a second degree could open up some additional career opportunities. For instance, having an MPH or MBA may prove beneficial for those looking to go into healthcare administration or research.

Concluding Thoughts

Becoming a pathologist is a challenging but rewarding career path. It is perfect for those who love histology, testing, data analysis, problem-solving and working as part of a team in intense situations. With hard work, dedication, and a desire to help others, pathologists can make a real difference in the world of healthcare.

Looking for a Pathology Residency Advisor?

Looking for a pathology residency advisor? Want help writing your personal statement? Need effective strategies for interviewing? Do you have things on your application – e.g., low USMLE scores, failed USMLEs, no research, IMG status, or others – you need help overcoming?

Be sure to check out our Residency Advisor service.

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Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.