What Is Pathology?

Pathology might make most people think of blood tests, but the pathology definition is the science of diseases and their nature, causes and effects. It is a branch of medicine and involves the laboratory study of samples of body tissue for forensic or diagnostic purposes.

Those working in Pathology are responsible for identifying people at risk of disease, guiding treatment and monitoring progress.

Pathology is used to predict susceptibility to disease, prevent disease by identifying risk factors, diagnosing diseases, determining patient prognosis, showing the presence or absence of infection, monitoring disease and personalising treatment.

Some of the Disciplines of Pathology include:

Chemical Pathology – this involves examining chemical changes in body fluids and blood to detect disease and/or to check how organs and tissue are functioning

Anatomical Pathology – this area involves analysing solid tissue samples to diagnose disease or examining separated cells, to determine disease post-mortem

Immunopathology – this involves the design, performance and supervision of tests that check the immune system

Genetic Pathology – diagnosing genetic conditions or determining someone’s predisposition to future diseases by analysing tissue, blood and body fluid samples

Forensic Pathology – this involves examining human tissue after death to determine the cause of death in sudden deaths or legal investigations

Haematology – this is the study of blood and bone marrow to identify abnormalities

Microbiology – diagnosing disease that is caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and other infectious agents

Career Outcomes

  • Pathologist
  • Pathology Collector
  • Scientist
  • Senior Scientist
  • Laboratory Technician
  • Laboratory Assistant
  • Health Information Professional
  • Pathology Typist
  • Couriers

Pathology in Australia

The pathology industry is experiencing growth as Australia’s population ages and technological advancements continue, creating a wider variety of tests and an increase in pathology referrals. The use of pathology services is higher for those aged over 55, and since ABS data shows the number of people aged 65 and over is expected to increase by 1.1% to over 16% of the population by 2020, the industry is expected to see continued growth.

According to the Centre for International Economics (CIE), pathology services have the highest bulk-billing rate of any medical service in Australia, with 87.8% of services bulk billed in 2014-15. CIE also reports that the number of tests funded under Medicare has grown from 40 million in 2000 to nearly 90 million in 2015.

The most common tests requested are chemical and haematology so these two disciplines have the highest number of job opportunities.

According to Public Pathology Australia, the Australian Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) funded pathology industry is dominated by Sonic Healthcare and Primary Healthcare, which have 41.4% and 32.7% of market share respectively.

Since the industry is so diverse, there is no average pathology salary. There are over 24,000 people employed in pathology in Australia on salaries ranging from $52,000 for a laboratory technician, to up to $150,000 for a pathologist.

How to Become a Pathologist

As a graduate of a pathology course, you will be supplying vital information that helps doctors diagnose and manage different diseases. You will also be benefiting both individuals and society, improving quality of life, helping people become more productive and preventing or minimising hospital stays, thereby reducing the cost of healthcare.

The delivery of pathology services encompasses a range of activities, which requires staff with varied qualifications and training. As a result, there are a number of pathology courses you can take, including:


A Certificate in Pathology such as a Certificate III in Laboratory Skills or Pathology Collection is for those who have not undertaken previous study in science or who would like to refresh their knowledge.

This course equips students with skills to work in a range of laboratories and teaches students how to maintain a laboratory, sampling techniques, testing, blood collection, ECG, infection control, first aid, medical terminology and how to prepare and perform basic science experiments.

Another common pathway to a career in pathology is the Certificate IV in Laboratory Techniques which provides students with training in all aspects of laboratory operations, such as occupational health and safety (OHS), computing, analytical instrumentation, chemistry, biological techniques and microscopy.


A Diploma in Laboratory Technology equips students with the required skills and knowledge to work under supervision examining micro-organisms or changes in cells and tissues, performing chemical analyses and assisting with research.

Bachelor Degree

A bachelor degree, such as Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Biomedicine or Bachelor of Medical Science helps students understand disease from a cellular, molecular, functional, tissue, immunological and biochemical perspective. You will gain an understanding of the function and structure of the human body, as well as determinants of health and disease.

Master’s Degree

A Master’s Degree, such as a Master of Speech Pathology, helps students develop expertise in an area, as well as practical skills and experience in clinics and external placements.

How Do You Become a Pathologist?

To become a pathologist, students must first become qualified as a medical practitioner through courses in medicine offered by universities, which usually take four years to complete.

Once they have completed their medical degree, students must work in the public hospital system for two years as part of a residency or internship before they can specialise in pathology. To specialise in pathology, doctors apply to the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia to undertake further pathology training.

Is Pathology Right for You?

Pathology is part of the health care sector, which means it’s a fast-paced industry where policies and procedures are constantly changing to keep up with new research and developments. It is therefore important for professionals in pathology to be adaptable and have the ability to make quick and accurate decisions.

Excellent communication skills, good problem-solving skills and the ability to recognise visual patterns is also important. If you’re good at solving complex problems, have sound judgement and decision-making, and want to make a big difference in the lives of people, then pathology is the career for you.