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.
[I] currently work as a pathologist at a hospital in the American South East and have done so for the past 4 years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.