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Pathologists' Assistant

Overview

A pathologists’ assistant is an intensively trained allied health professional who provides anatomic pathology services under the direction and supervision of a licensed, board-certified or board-eligible pathologist. A pathologists’ assistant is qualified to perform all of the surgical and autopsy functions of a pathologist leading up to, but not including, the diagnosis.

Under the direction and supervision of a pathologist, a pathologists’ assistant may provide the following:

  • Preparation, gross description and dissection of human tissue surgical specimens
  • Preparation of human postmortem examinations 
  • Instruction of anatomy and physiology, gross pathology, photography and gross dissection skills for surgical specimens as well as autopsy techniques
  • Training of pathology residents/fellows, pathologists’ assistant students and other pathology lab personnel (as needed)
  • Research
  • Procurement of samples for biospecimen banking
  • Performance of administrative, budgetary, supervisory, teaching and other such duties as may be appropriate and assigned

By performing such a wide array of tasks, pathologists' assistants make a significant contribution to a laboratory's or pathology practice's effectiveness and cost efficiency. You can find out more about what a pathologists’ assistant does on the American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants website.

Working Conditions

Pathologists’ assistants perform in a wide scope of clinical practices. Although the majority of pathologists’ assistants work in academic (medical school/university) and community hospitals, they can also be employed in other areas such as private pathology laboratories, forensic pathology laboratories and morgues, reference laboratories, government healthcare systems and medical teaching facilities.

Some pathologists’ assistants are even self-employed business owners providing their pathology expertise via long- and short-term contract (locum tenens).

New program graduate salaries range from $75,000 to $90,000 with experienced pathologists' assistants earning $100,000 or more annually. Factors that influence a pathologists’ assistant’s salary include experience, workload, setting and regional cost of living. Sign-on, retention and annual bonuses are commonplace.

With a pathologists' assistant degree, you can find a job virtually anywhere in the United States, as well as in Canada and Australia. The prospects for finding employment are excellent for the foreseeable future.

Pathologists’ assistant (Photo: Photo courtesy of AAPA)
Average Salary
$90,000 -
Years in school
4 - 6
Job outlook
Excellent

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Academic Requirements

Ten pathologists’ assistant programs have been accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), and all but one require a bachelor’s degree in a science field. Prerequisite undergraduate courses include:

  • Biological sciences (human anatomy and physiology preferred)
  • Microbiology 
  • General chemistry
  • Organic/biochemistry
  • Mathematics (statistics recommended)
  • English composition

The NAACLS has a list of accredited pathologists’ assistants programs on its website. See specific programs for admission criteria.

Pathologists’ assistant programs are approximately two years of intense training, culminating in a master’s degree. (One program offers a bachelor’s degree.) The first year is a didactic (classroom/lecture) setting and the second year consists of clinical/clerkship rotations in a hospital/laboratory with hands-on experience.

The American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) partnered to achieve national certification for pathologists’ assistants in 2004. To earn the PA (ASCP) designation, an individual must now graduate from a NAACLS-accredited pathologists’ assistant training program and subsequently pass the ASCP board of certification examination.

Every three years, a certified pathologists’ assistant must demonstrate sufficient continuing medical education to maintain certification.

The ASCP provides information regarding certification on its Board of Certification page.

Many health professionals choose to go back to school to get a degree to become a pathologists’ assistant. Common first careers include histotechnologists, clinical laboratory scientists, medical laboratory technicians, cytotechnologists, anatomic pathology technicians, autopsy technicians and military medics or hospital corpsman.

Pathologists’ assistants may join the American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants. To join as a student, you must be enrolled in a NAACLS-accredited program.