Histopathology (doctor)

Histopathologists study organs, tissues, cells and genetics to help provide a diagnosis. 

You'll examine patients' organs and tissues by eye and look at cellular samples under a microscope. You'll also undertake studies to provide diagnostic and prognostic information or determine the cause of death.

Doctor on phone

Life as a histopathology doctor

Most of your time will be spent in a laboratory, working as part of a multidisciplinary team that will include laboratory scientists and doctors from other medical specialties. 

You’ll need an in-depth knowledge of both clinical and pathological aspects of diseases. You’ll assess specimens from patients with cancer and play an integral role in planning their treatment by staging and grading their tumour.

Generally, you will handle specimens in the lab or perform autopsies in the mortuary rather than see patients face to face. 

You’ll also have responsibility for reporting cancer screening biopsies.

Common procedures include:

  • examination and dissection of surgical resection specimens, to select the most appropriate samples for microscope slides
  • microscopic examination of tissues, with subsequent construction of clinical reports
  • carrying out autopsies

How much can I earn?

You’ll first earn a salary when you start your foundation training after medical school. The basic salary ranges from £32,398 to £37,303. Once you start your specialty training in the NHS, you can expect to earn a salary of at least £43,923, which can increase to between £93,666 and £126,281 as a consultant.

How about the benefits?

  • make a difference
  • flexible and part-time working
  • high income early in your career
  • work anywhere in the world
  • excellent pension scheme
  • good holiday entitlement
  • NHS discounts in shops and restaurants

Must-have skills

  • excellent communication skills to manage a wide range of relationships with colleagues
  • emotional resilience, a calm temperament and the ability to work well under pressure
  • teamwork and the capacity to lead multidisciplinary teams, which includes communication and discussion of findings
  • problem-solving and diagnostic skills
  • organisational ability and effective decision-making skills
  • first-class time and resource management for the benefit of patients

Entry requirements

Your first step is medical school. Typically, you’ll need excellent GCSEs and three A or A* passes at A level including chemistry for a five-year undergraduate degree in medicine. Many medical schools also ask for biology and others may require maths or physics. 

If you already have a degree, you could study for a four-year postgraduate degree in medicine. 

You’ll need to pass an interview and admissions test. You’ll be asked to show how you demonstrate the NHS values such as compassion and respect.

Some medical schools look to recruit a mix of students from different backgrounds and geographical areas, so your educational and economic background and family circumstances could be considered as part of your application. 

What are my chances of starting a career in histopathology?

There are approximately 1,253 histopathologists working in the NHS in England. In 2020, there were 261 applications for 97 specialty training places.

How to become a histopathologist 

After medical school, you’ll join the paid two-year foundation programme where you’ll work in six placements in different settings.

After your foundation programme, you can apply for paid specialty training to become a histopathologist which will take five years. 

You may be able to train part-time, for example for health reasons or if you have family or caring responsibilities.

Where a career as a doctor in histopathology can take you

After two years of integrated cellular pathology training, you will either decide to continue in histopathology specialty training or apply for training in one of the three other cellular pathology specialties through a national recruitment process:
  • diagnostic neuropathology
  • forensic histopathology 
  • paediatric and perinatal pathology

In the subspecialty of cytopathology, you could develop additional skills in the cellular analysis of body fluids, for example from cervical smears or elsewhere in the body. 

Other roles that may interest you

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