Purpose and Mission
A pathology assistant (or pathologists’ assistant) is a highly educated allied health professional who fulfills a number of lab-related functions under the supervision of registered pathologist. They interact with pathologists very similarly to physician’s assistants in medical practice, who carry out their responsibilities under the supervision of a physician.
Pathology assistants are trained to provide accurate and rapid processing of many pathological specimens. These healthcare professionals play an important role in making a pathologic diagnosis, but the pathologist always actually makes the diagnosis.
Most pathology assistants are employed by hospitals, clinics and larger pathology practices, and report to one or more partners in the practice. Those who are employees of clinics and hospitals may report to a department head or other administrator.
With some exceptions, pathologists’ assistants do not have much direct supervisory responsibility. Senior pathology assistants often have some training or junior personnel oversight duties.
Pathology assistants are generally required to have at least one pathology-related professional certification. A one-year Certificate III in Pathology is a good way started as a pathology assistant. Those who are looking for a more in-depth training program can opt for a Diploma of Laboratory Technology – Pathology Testing (typically two years).
Responsibilities of a Pathology Assistant
The primary responsibility of most pathologists’ assistants is the examination and dissection of anatomic pathology specimens and undertaking postmortem exams. Pathology assistants prepare samples for numerous pathological tests, especially frozen section samples, flow cytometry and immunohistochemical staining.
They also typically pictures of gross and microscopic specimens, assist in the preparation for professional conferences, and help train other pathology personnel, even pathology residents.
Some pathology assistants also perform a variety of administrative, training and supervisory tasks. You can think of pathologists’ assistants as an important extension of the pathologist in a variety of healthcare settings; PAs also often serve to liaise with other departments and / or labs to deliver the best possible healthcare outcomes to patients.
Pathologists’ assistants undertake a broad range of clinical practices, often specified by government regulation. Most are employed in hospitals, but a significant number of these important healthcare professionals also work in pathology labs, municipal or county forensic pathology laboratories and morgues, reference labs, government healthcare agencies, and even in medical schools or similar facilities. A small number of PAs are self-employed, and provide pathology-related services on the basis of long- and short-term employment contracts.