A pathologist's assistant provides a number of services in a pathology lab, ranging from managing paperwork to conducting autopsies. These allied health professionals can do many of the same things that a fully licensed pathologist can do, with the exception of diagnosing patients, and they work under the supervision of a pathologist. Employment prospects in this field can be quite good, as many facilities are constantly in need of additional pathology staff.
In order to become a pathologist's assistance, someone must usually obtain a master's degree in science. He or she typically has a bachelor's degree in the life sciences, medical technology, or a related field, attending a specialized two year program which is designed to create qualified pathologist's assistants. Depending on the region where he or she works, a pathologist's assistant may be required to take a licensing exam to demonstrate competency.
In the lab, a pathologist's assistant can process specimens, handling everything from filing the paperwork to running all of the necessary tests which could lead to a diagnosis. A pathologist's assistant can perform dissections, interpret test results, and describe anatomical specimens, with the pathologist stepping in at the end of the process to confirm the diagnosis. These professionals also manage specimens stored in the lab, and they often deal with administrative issues like maintaining paperwork, issuing pathology reports, and coordinating employee schedules, freeing up the pathologist for other work.
Pathologist's assistants can also perform autopsies, handling every stage of the process from securing legal permission to conduct an autopsy to releasing a body to family members or a funeral home. The gross dissection skills of these professionals come in useful at the autopsy table, as they must be able to examine the organs in situ as well as dissecting them and taking samples. In a busy pathology facility, autopsy skills can also reduce the pathologist's caseload, which can help reduce burnout and ensure that the pathologist is able to focus on his or her responsibilities.
In some pathology labs, the pathologist's assistant also provides training to new employees, familiarizing them with lab procedures and helping them get established. Teaching duties may also fall upon this member of the pathology staff, and he or she may guide students, conduct demonstrations, offer lectures, and provide other learning opportunities for people pursuing careers in pathology. Experienced assistants can also provide training and support to newly qualified pathologists who may not have the extensive field experience of a veteran pathologist's assistant.