pathologist at work

When you hear the word “pathologist,” your mind might race in a couple different directions.

You might think of a forensic pathologist, a medical examiner who determines the cause and manner of death. There is also a surgical pathologist, who analyzes and provides diagnoses for excised tissue samples and biopsies of potentially diseased sections of the body.

While the word pathologist can be applied to several different industries, a pathologist salary is usually guaranteed to be on the higher end of things.

We’ll be exploring the kind of money you can expect to make as a pathologist, and how many different branches of medicine you can explore in the process!

What’s a Pathologist?

At time, this isn’t an easy question to answer.

The term “pathologist” has its roots in Greek, referring to the overall study of events that take place within the human body.

Today, we use the term to refer to the study of diseases.

To figure out a pathologist salary, we must first narrow down what kind of pathologist you are interested in becoming.

Below, we’ll dive into several different specialty areas of pathology to determine what kind of salary you might expect in the future.


dermatologist at work

Dermapathology studies the skin as an organ. After taking a biopsy from a melanoma, dermapathologists will use tests to determine the presence of cancer and recommend further treatment if necessary.

The title of dermapathologist can be confused with a dermatologist, which is a clinical practitioner who can examine skin conditions and send samples to dermapathologists for further evaluation.

Dermapathology requires a close attention to detail, as there are well over a thousand known skin conditions in humans.

Forensic Pathology

forensic pathologist in the lab

Made popular by crime scene investigation shows on television, forensic pathology focuses on post-mortem examinations to determine the cause of death, natural or otherwise, in humans.

During an autopsy, forensic pathologists will perform the actual medical examination while the coroner confirms the nature of the death. Microscopic samples are used by forensic pathologists, as well as physical trauma evidence and toxicology interpretation.


Neuropathology oberving tissues

Neuropathology focuses on the study of nervous system tissue, and the diseases that affect the nervous system as a whole. Neuropathologists will consult for other physicians, answering questions about the methods of treatment for a disease and any surgical intervention that might be needed. Biopsies are taken after medical imaging reveals a need for further action.

Pulmonary Pathology

Pulmonary Pathologist observing the lungs

Those in pulmonary pathology study the diseases affecting the lungs. Due to the internal structure of the lungs, medical imaging is used to determine the necessary methods for treatment of a potential lung infection. This could call for a biopsy or surgery, which can include video camera assistance.

Surgical Pathology

surgical pathologists oberving tissues

General surgical pathologists analyze and diagnose tissue and specimen samples taken from potentially infectious patients. Interpreting the results of a biopsy is a crucial and critical part of a surgical pathologist’s career and will determine the course of action in a patient who requires surgical intervention or chemotherapy.

Determining a Pathologist Salary

Now that you’ve determined your specialty area, what kind of pathologist salary might you expect when you enter the field? That’s what we’re going to find out now.

Average Annual Pathologist Salary

Those who work as surgeons or physicians can expect an average annual salary of $251,890 as of May 2017. This number can greatly vary, depending on your specialty area and the specific type of hospital or clinic where you practice.

Below, we’ll dig deeper into the variables associated with a pathologist salary and how you can better determine what you can make as a pathologist.

Top Employing States for Pathologists

Let’s check out the highest-employing job environments for pathologists, and how the salary differs with each location:

State Employment Number Average Annual Salary
















New York 



The number of pathologist offices and specialty hospitals in California directly correlates to the high employment number for pathologists seen above. With such a wide area of treatment potential, a number of hospitals utilize pathologists, whether they are public, private, or affiliated with a university.

Highest Concentration of Pathologist Jobs by State

While California takes the top prize for employing pathologists, we can also look at the highest areas of job density in the United States:

State Employment per 1,000 jobs Average Annual Salary







South Dakota 



New Hampshire









Although the general population in the states above is lower than any of the highest-employing states in the previous list, the patient-to-pathologist ratio guarantees a better opportunity for those pursuing a career in pathology.

If you’re open to relocating, think outside of the more populous areas and consider the option of moving out of your comfort zone for living!

Highest Metropolitan Area Pathologist Employment

Along with actual state data, we can analyze the available jobs in specific major metropolitan areas for pathologists. The top ten entries are listed for your convenience here:

Metropolitan Area Employment Number Average Salary




New York/New Jersey 









Chicago/Naperville/Arlington Heights






Los Angeles/Long Beach



San Antonio/New Braunfels



Minneapolis/St. Paul/Bloomington 



San Diego/Carlsbad






Although each of these areas are in states that don’t necessarily employ the most pathologists in the country, the concentration of populations in these major metropolitan areas contributes to the availability of careers in pathology, despite the surrounding states’ lower job amount.

Pathologist Career Preparation

Anyone who plans to become a pathologist has a long road ahead of them for education.

The Undergraduate Path

To begin, a bachelor’s degree in any kind of pre-medical program is a requirement. While you may be able to enter medical school with just a bachelor’s, a master’s degree may be preferable when eventually applying to medical schools.  

You don’t have to choose a specific undergraduate degree, but English, chemistry, physics, or math are great options to explore while preparing for advanced studies. Volunteer work at a local hospital or clinic while studying will also look great on an application.

Simply applying to medical school is a huge step. All schools are highly competitive, and you’ll want to take every step possible to ensure you have a great chance for admission.

Applying to Medical School

pathologist student working inside the lab

Before becoming a pathologist, you’ll need to pass the Medical College Admission Test, and secure several letters of recommendation from your previous professors or instructors. You’ll need the right personality, qualities of leadership, and activities outside of school to be considered a candidate for medical school.

Check into different universities that might offer a combination of undergraduate and medical degrees – you can fast-track your studies with these programs, which usually last anywhere from six to eight years.

During the first two years of medical school, you’ll spend most of your time in a laboratory or classroom. Your class topics at this point in your academic career will cover biochemistry, pharmacology, medical laws, and the ethics of practicing medicine. While in classes, you will also cover methods of patient examination, illness diagnosis, and how to properly examine a patient who presents with a possible infection.

For the latter part of medical school, you will go through a clinical experience under the supervision of a practicing pathologist. You will cover areas other than pathology to expose you to the world of medicine, and you’ll see different wings of a hospital that could include pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry, and oncology.

Residency Training

After you graduate from medical school, you will enter a residency, sometimes referred to as an internship during the first few years. Depending on your area of pathology, this could take as long as seven years before you are eligible to practice on your own.

In order to perform as a pathologist, you will need to obtain a license in your state. Requirements are mandated by each individual state’s board of medicine. Along with state requirements, pathologists have to pass a national medical exam, which is also different depending on your area of pathology. While certification is not necessary, it might benefit you when searching for employment.

Potential pathologists need to be masters of patience. Everyone in the medical field works long hours, and pathologists are no exception, especially when a critical diagnosis may be necessary to determine the next course of action in a patient’s treatment schedule.

Pathologists need to be comfortable making decisions, as their diagnosis will not only affect a patient, but the future schedule of other physicians attached to the same patient.

All pathologists should be adept at solving problems and determining the best course of action when presented with recognizable symptoms that warrant a diagnosis. If you plan to run your own practice, you’ll need good management skills to maintain a staff of other doctors and administrators.

Your Future as a Pathologist

The pathologist salary is likely what attracted you to the idea of practicing medicine, and now that you understand the requirements for pathologists and their specialties, maybe you’re thinking about wearing a lab coat in your future.


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About Diane Turner

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