At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Pathology is an incredibly varied field of science which focuses on the study of diseases. Careers in this field are extremely broad, with a number of different training programs available for people who are interested in pathology. A pathologist may work for an organization like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tracking outbreaks of diseases and observing their consequences, for example, or a pathologist might work in the lab of a hospital, analyzing samples of blood, tissue, and body waste for signs of disease.
As a medical field, pathology is one of the oldest medical disciplines. The history of pathology dates back to the Golden Age of Islamic culture, when doctors began to apply the scientific method to their patient interactions. Physicians started making links between the causes and results of diseases, for example, and they began to use scientific information to diagnose their patients. One of the oldest tricks in pathology is tasting a patient's urine to test for diabetes; if the urine is sweet, the patient has diabetes mellitus, a common form of this pernicious disease.
In human medicine, pathologists are usually used as consultants by other physicians. A patient will not see a pathologist directly, but a pathologist will examine things like biopsies and blood samples to diagnose a disease and offer treatment recommendations. Pathologists also perform autopsies to determine a patient's cause of death, in which case they are known as forensic pathologists. While a pathologist may not ever meet a patient in person, he or she is an important part of the patient's medical team.
Research pathologists are focused on more general issues of disease and health cycles in human populations. Botanical pathologists study disease in plants, while veterinary pathologists specialize in animal disease. Some doctors also specialize in conditions which affect the ability to speak or swallow; this type of pathologist is known as a speech pathologist. The multiplicity of career options in pathology can make this field very appealing to people from a wide range of backgrounds.
The training required for a career in pathology is quite extensive. Pathologists have to learn how to use a wide variety of equipment to gather data about their subjects, and they must also be familiar with a range of medical conditions and their progression. Most countries require pathologists to become fully certified doctors, which means that they attend medical school, followed by a residency in pathology.