Interested in becoming a pathologist? Before I start, it's as well to advise you that I am British-born and trained, so I can't give much advice to those of you who may be surprised to find that not every webpage in English is written by an American ;-). So, if you want to be a pathologist, first of all you'll have to get a medical degree (you'll generally need three grade A A-levels or a 2:1 degree to get into medical school, and I'd advise doing at least 2 sciences - biology and chemistry being the most useful for medicine). I have no idea what GCSEs you need to do Medicine (other than science ones) - I suggest that you check the websites of the Medical Schools that you're interested in, or ask a friendly Careers Advisor. I'm not involved with admissions, and so I'm not really able to offer much useful advice as how to get into medical school - it has changed a lot since I applied in 1985. I understand that some medical experience is strongly advised, though, such as a work placement in a hospital or volunteer work in a nursing home.

Now, I'll say this again, as clearly as I can, because I've had many e-mails from people who don't get the message:

You have to be a doctor, a dentist or a vet before you can become a pathologist. For most people, that means becoming a doctor, although you could also become an oral pathologist, if you get a dentistry degree, or a veterinary pathologist, if you've been to veterinary school. I'm afraid that there is absolutely no other way! Forensic science degrees and biomedical sciences degrees don't help - you still have to become a medical doctor first - end of story!

Right. I can't tell you much about veterinary pathology, but I can tell you how to become a human pathologist. After you've got your degree (and that usually takes 5 years) and done your foundation years (2 at present), you can apply to become a pathology trainee. In the UK, the interviews are held once a year, and you'll find everything you want to know at the UK Histopathology Training Website.

Pathology training then takes a minimum of five years in the UK, with two fairly hard exams on the way. Also, most pathologists develop a particular interest in the diseases of an organ or system - mine is the skin (dermatopathology - skin biopsies from the living) and perinatal pathology (miscarriages, stillbirths and terminations). In some hospitals you'll only do specimens within your specialty, but in most you'll see a mixture, but provide a lead in your area of interest. If you want to be a Forensic Pathologist, you have to start your training in general histopathology, and then specialise after a minimum of about 2 years. So, that is about 12 years in total until you become a consultant pathologist, although you will be (well) paid for the last 7 years of that.

If you are a graduate already, particularly if your degree is in science or a health profession, you might be able to take an accelerated Medical Degree, which several universities run. This will generally take four rather than five years. This is the only way you can shorten the training in pathology with a non-medical degree (from 12 to 11 years). I'll say it again: you must do a medical degree before you can start pathology training, with no exceptions. As a consequence, if you don't get good enough grades to get into Medical School, I'd advise you to spend a year re-sitting your A-levels rather than doing a non-medical degree. If you can then get the grades for medicine, you'll only have taken one extra year, rather than two or three. If you fail, then it might be that you should think of doing something else - and you'll get this message after only one year.

If you don't reckon you'll be able to do all the above, there are still other jobs in pathology that you might consider:
  • Forensic Science deals with the non-autopsy science of solving crimes. You can find out more at
  • You could become a mortuary technician, assisting in the performance of autopsies, reconstruction and mortuary management. More information can be found here. You don't need any formal qualifications to be a mortuary technician as you train on the job.
  • Finally, Biomedical Scientists are laboratory technicians involved in many stages of the production and, in some cases, reporting of histopathological and cytological specimens. Find out more from the
    Institute of Biomedical Science
If there is anything else that you want to know any more about pathology as a career, I'd be very
happy to advise you - e-mail me at - but don't ask me about shortcuts until you've read this whole page! Oh, and if you want to know how I spend a typical day in pathology, have a look at this...