Is pathology right for me?


Full Member
Jul 19, 2009
  1. Pre-Medical
Hello all,

I am a freshly graduated high school student about to start my first year in a transfer college. I am working on an AA degree to transfer to a 4-year university later on, and I've had some trouble deciding what kind of career I'd be interested in.

I became interested in microbiology (in general) during one of my high school biology classes. I find viruses, bacteria, protozoa and cells in general to be fascinating and loved looking through the microscope at them. For that reason, I originally wanted to pursue a career in virology or bacteriology, however the average salary for those were a lot less than my tolerable range, and apparently there are only a few facilities able to handle level 4 viruses, which are out of state and I really don't want to move or travel.

Although medicine has never caught my interest before, I came across pathology in my career research, and it really has grown on me and I think (from what I've seen so far) that I would enjoy studying and eventually working as a pathologist. I know it will be difficult to get into medical school and then surviving the "burn" from both school and then residency, but that's why I want to be sure now since I am just beginning my college life and I don't want to drop out of medical school or switch majors late in the game.

I am a very patient and passive person, and I would have not a single problem or complaint about not having to see patients or having to deal with other people. I could be put in a quiet laboratory and listen to the hum of machines all day and would be perfectly fine. That's not to say that I'm completely anti-social; I know pathologists are consulted by other doctors and also have assistants or colleagues, and I'll have no problem with that either, as long as I'm not dealing with too many people all at once.

So, the point of this post is that I'm asking for a few details about life as a pathologist. What exactly can be expected in a typical day when you get up in the morning to when you go to bed at night? what are the easiest and what are the most difficult aspects of their work? How do insurance companies affect them? how do the schedules and "workload" differ from other doctors? About the sub specialties, I see that a lot of pathologists specialize in blood banking or hematology or dermatology, why is this? If I were to sub-specialize in medical microbiology, would that affect my salary or ability to obtain a certain position because they are less popular or less demanded? What do medical microbiology pathologists do exactly?
Should I work for a Ph.D or will an M.D. suffice?

Thank you all for your time, please excuse me if posts like this get put up alot :(



Moderator Emeritus
15+ Year Member
Aug 15, 2003
Fixing in 10% neutral buffered formalin
  1. Attending Physician
We have some websites in the stickied posts above that describe what pathologists do. To say that pathologists "don't deal with people" is oversimplifying though. A lot of our day is interacting with clinicians and other clients (other hospitals, administrators, etc) so good political skills and people skills can go a long way. This is more important for private practice or for academics who want to have a high national profile though.

You are unlikely to get a job outside of academia (or inside of academia unless you have a very strong research focus) with a focus on medical microbiology. Pathologists often supervise micro labs, but this is not often a full time job (leaving time for research or for other types of path). Other specialties simply have more things to do. A lot of the work in micro is done by techs or machines, so the pathologist in the supervisory role runs meetings, assists with policies, and makes sure quality is on track.

While you do want to be sure that medicine is the right career for you before you start medical school, you don't have to be sure about the specifics. Once you get to med school you often discover things you like that you wouldn't have considered, and discover things that you hate that you thought you would like.

Do a Ph.D. if it fits into your career plan. Don't do it on the chance that it helps your career out. If it is a consideration, you need to talk to advisors and people who have done this to see what the benefits are, etc.

Bear in mind also that an individual's personality (and likes/dislikes) often changes pretty dramatically during and after college. A shy/passive person can become gregarious, and vice/versa. Don't box yourself in too early. Figure out what you are interested in, what your options are, and talk to some people.
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