Pathologists study the changes in body tissues brought about by disease. In addition, they examine the ways in which these changes provide clues to the causes of disease and death, and the ways in which the spread of disease may be checked.

There are a variety of subspecialties within pathology, including the following:


  • Cellular pathology, in which cells are the focus of study
  • Clinical pathology, in which laboratory methods are used to aid clinical diagnoses
  • General pathology, which is the study of the processes that occur in various diseases
  • Forensic pathology, in which the results of pathologic examinations (such as autopsies) are used as evidence in legal proceedings

Much of a pathologist's work is done with a microscope, preparing and examining biopsy specimens (tissue samples). Pathologists are charged with deciding whether a tissue specimen indicates the presence of a disease. They also perform autopsies to determine the cause or causes of death. The pathologist must be knowledgeable about both the cause and the course of disease processes.

Pathologists ordinarily do work in both internal medicine and surgery during their training. A strong laboratory background is a necessity, with extensive training in modern instrumentation. Three- to four-year residencies in pathology are required, depending on the subspecialty.

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