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What is Pathology?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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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.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon86363 — On May 24, 2010

My name is Naina. I am in 10th standard and am 14 years old. My aim is to become a neurologist so can you please help me how would I go further?

By anon75330 — On Apr 06, 2010

To Irene and Janet, it is possible to pursue a career in all areas of pathology with a degree in Biomedical science. The degree teaches you valuable techniques and skills that enable you to become a Medical Microbiologist, Hematologist, Histologist, Immunologist, Pathologist, and many other careers too. Hope this helps.

By anon71953 — On Mar 21, 2010

My name is irene. I am 17 and am a student of university of portharcourt and i want into go into medical microbiology. how do I pursue this career? please help.

By anon67284 — On Feb 24, 2010

My name is Janet. I am more into Biology and am 18 years of age. I want to study this course especially the one cited with the forensic pathology but the thing is that i don't know what it takes for one to pursue this career. please help me. it has always been my dream to get into this career path.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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