Interview with a Pathologist

Have television shows such as CSI ever piqued your interest toward a career in pathology? We interviewed this pathologist to find out what the best and worst parts of working in this setting are.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in?
I currently work as a pathologist at a hospital in the American South East and have done so for the past 4 years.

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
My work consists of examining tissue and blood samples, as well as conducting autopsies, conferring with local authorities in criminal cases, as well as serving as an expert witness in court. In terms of misunderstandings, people often think of pathology as work conducted in solitude. In fact, I have an entire team at the hospital that I work with on a daily basis. Whether I am testing samples, conducting investigations, or working within the court system, I am rarely alone. The work of a pathologist requires a network of human resources in order to succeed.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
I would say that I would rate my job satisfaction at a 9 or a 10. Of course, with any occupation, there will be good days and bad days, but I enjoy my work very much. The satisfaction I receive in helping solve medical mysteries, as well as in bringing justice to families of the deceased, keeps me going, day after day. When I get up in the morning, I go to work with a sense of pride.

Does this job move your heart? Feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
I certainly believe I have found my calling. In my younger days, throughout high school and during my undergraduate studies, I worked a variety of different jobs. At one point, I was a waiter, as well as a security guard. I worked some fast food places and even cleaned pools one summer. However, within my professional life, I have always felt a calling to the medical field and I believe that helping people through solving mysteries has always spoken to me.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
I grew up in a lower middle class family. We were quite your average, ordinary family. My parents had always encouraged me to attend college, but the money simply was not there. When my grandfather died, it was revealed that he had set aside some stocks that ultimately led to me being able to afford school. I am forever grateful for his hard work and I use that as an example to strive for myself each day.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I began my work at the hospital through my residency and fellowship programs. As part of obtaining my medical degree, as well as to work as a pathologist, I had to spend a total of 5 years in residency and fellowship, at which point I had to take a board review. From there, I was hired to work at the hospital at which I completed my graduate work.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
One of the things about working in the medical field is that you must remain stoic while keeping a compassionate point of view. I had to learn to balance these two, especially when dealing with cases involving children. When you deal with death and disease on a regular basis, it is important to take yourself out of the situation emotionally.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
The most important thing I’ve learned outside of school through this job is that humanity is the same everywhere. At the end of the day, we are all striving to be happy. The lines that separate us are self imposed.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
While not strange to me now, when I first began my fellowship, I had a body sit up on the autopsy table one time. This is due to gases inside the body expanding. Although not a common occurrence, the first time it happened, I was significantly freaked out.

On a good day, when things are going well, what’s happening and what do you like about it?
I get up and go to work each day to help give a voice to the voiceless. For those who have passed away under mysterious circumstances, it is essential that I find the cause, even if just to give some closure to family members.

What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you really want to pull your hair out?
In my particular hospital, the budget can be tight at times, so money is always an issue. From lab equipment to materials to workspace, there is always an issue to contend with. But, having a great team to work with, as well as the enjoyment of my job, makes my hair pulling days few and far between.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
As mentioned, the job requires balance. I have to remove myself from situations emotionally in order to do my job. As with any medical professional, we are trained to remain stoic in the face of that which may make others upset. But, we do this for the purpose of helping people. When I go home, I do not take my job with me. I leave any and all stress at work.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
A pathologist can make anywhere from $75,000 up to perhaps $200,000, depending on location and experience. A chief pathologist can expect to earn top dollar, while someone coming into the field will make considerably less. However, if you enjoy your job, money is not of any concern.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I typically take two weeks a year. Currently, I’m not married and have no children, so my vacation time is spent on myself. I will typically break up my vacation time and take one week in the summer and one in the winter. In terms of being enough, I don’t think there will ever be “enough” vacation time.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
In terms of education, I completed my undergraduate degree in biology. From there, I attended medical school, then completed my residency and my fellowship. In order to be apathologist, I would think the skills needed would be a thirst for knowledge, as well as a compassionate heart. I entered this field to help solve mysteries. A desire to solve puzzles and make sense of things really drove me toward this career choice.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
Being a pathologist is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The work can be challenging, but when you finally figure out that missing piece of the puzzle, it’s all worth it.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
In five years, I would like to be on my way to a chief pathologist position. I want to continue to educate myself, as well as grow within my profession. I’m currently involved in several professional associations, in which I would like to move to higher positions.