For some people, learning what makes a human being die is incredibly intriguing because it holds the possibility of finding solutions to disease and aging. It also helps solve crimes and determine liability for death. Pathologists are medical professionals who examine bodies with these purposes. However, they need extensive medical training to qualify for the job. An alternative route is to become a pathology assistant, which requires much less training but provides similar work.
According to the American Association of Pathologists' Assistants, or AAPA, pathologist assistants are qualified to handle most tasks a pathologist may handle except for diagnosis. They dissect, prepare and describe tissue specimens, get medical records and a history for the person examined, prepare bodies for release to funeral homes and teach pathology-related courses. They spend much of their time looking at samples under microscopes and performing basic tests on the tissue or bodily fluids they collect. They also handle some administrative tasks like supervising other pathology employees and working with the pathology budget.
Pathologist assistants must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in biology, nursing or other science field related to pathology, such as mortuary science. The majority of pathologist assistant programs are offered at the master's level. A pathologist assistant typically needs a Master of Pathology Assisting degree in addition to a baccalaureate degree. Pathologist assisting programs must be accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. Pathologist assistants also must pass the certification exam from the American Society for Clinical Pathology to obtain a state license.
Pathologist assistants must have excellent skills in analysis and be detail-oriented. They must be comfortable working independently or as part of a team. High proficiency in math and science subjects and pathology techniques is fundamental.
Pathologist assistants work in labs, hospitals, morgues and academic facilities that generally are clean, well-lit and ventilated properly. Work hours are stable. However, they may be exposed to biological disease agents from the specimens with which they work. The chemicals they use for some tests also pose risks.
Salaries for newly-graduated pathologist assistants in the United States range from the high $70,000s to $90,000 per year, according to the AAPA website, accessed in 2014. Some experienced PAs earn more than $100,000 annually. In addition to experience, other factors in an assistant's salary include the job setting, geographical location and workload.
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