A program that focuses on the scientific study of the expression, initiation, maintenance and progression of tissue injury and disease, including death, and the relationship of pathogenesis to fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms. Includes instruction in immunology, microbiology, gene expression, inflammation, cell injury, apoptosis, immunopathology, molecular markers of disease and toxins, neoplasia, growth regulation, and organ- and system-specific investigations.

Pathologists work to understand disease, including its causes, effects, and factors that encourage its development.

Diseases are conditions that cause abnormal function in the body, resulting in a decline in health. Different diseases can cause tissue death, impact organ function, and other unpleasant effects that may be detectable either through medical observation or lab testing. Pathologists must be familiar with the distinct markers of many diseases in order to identify, diagnose, and treat them.

There are many types of pathology and a wide array of roles to match. Forensic pathologists conduct full-body examinations on the deceased in order to determine their cause of death; plant pathologists study and treat diseases that affect plant life; neuropathologists work with diseases of the brain and nervous system. For the most part, pathologists work directly with patients in diagnostic contexts or examine samples in labs. These samples can consist of living cell and tissue, bodily fluids, or slivers of an affected organ.

Work in pathology and experimental pathology may include...

  • Conducting exams, biopsies, or autopsies
  • Extracting tissue samples from diseased specimens
  • Performing tests on samples to determine the presence of disease
  • Collecting, analyzing, and recording data
  • Developing treatment plans for conditions upon discovery

For the most part, pathologists are medical doctors; generally speaking, physicians who specialize in pathology work as diagnosticians or as lab analysts. Universities may employ pathologists to teach the discipline or to conduct research, and government agencies tend to have them on hand, particularly in city and state law enforcement facilities, where they often fulfill roles as forensic analysts and technicians. Pathologists also work as consultants, helping individuals and professionals to determine what ails them, and they may contribute work to publications on their specialty.

Becoming a pathologist is an involved process that requires extensive training. Most students develop essential lab skills and basic knowledge of the field in undergraduate programs focused on biology. They take coursework in anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry, which prepare them for the rigors of lab work. Graduates of Associate's and Bachelor's degree programs often go on to find work as technicians or lab assistants, and some pursue specialty fields such as autopsy nursing. Many students will finish four year undergraduate programs and enroll in medical school, where they delve deeper into the field of pathology and gain crucial clinical experience. Others opt for Master's and PhD research programs, where they focus on lab work and tackle questions on disease. It's common for research professionals to acquire dual degrees, such as MD-PhDs, since the clinical-diagnostic aspects of pathology are so essential to understanding the field.

For those with an interest in medical mysteries, pathology is the field that keeps on giving. If that sounds like you, it might be time to think about building a career in pathology.

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