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What Is A Pathologists' Assistant?

A pathologists' assistant is considered a physician extender, and is certified by the American Society for Clinical Pathology, and typically a fellow member of the American Society for Pathologists' Assistants (AAPA). They are highly trained laboratory professionals. A pathologists' assistant is the first set of eyes that looks at a patient's surgical specimen. They are involved in the dissection, examination and description of a multitude of specimens ranging in complexity. One set of cases may be skin biopsies, and the next set may be complex cancer resections. Many years of training, experience, and dedication go into a pathologists' assistant's practice. A pathologists' assistant must do his/her job staying in accordance with numerous guidelines and recommendations of practice, including Bethesda, WHO, CMS, ASCP, AAPA, ASCO, CAP, and others. A pathologists' assistant's job can be rewarding, yet demanding, interacting with pathologists, surgeons and technicians.

The following is an excerpt taken from the American Association for Pathologists' Assistants website (

"A pathologists’ assistant (PA) is a highly trained allied health professional who provides various services under the direction and supervision of a pathologist. Pathologists' assistants interact with pathologists in a manner similar to physician’s assistants in surgical and medical practice, carrying out their duties under the direction of their physicians. PAs are academically and practically trained to provide accurate and timely processing of a variety of laboratory specimens, including the majority of pathological specimens. PAs are key components to helping make a pathologic diagnosis, but it is the sole province of the pathologist to render a diagnosis.

The majority of pathologists’ assistants are responsible for the gross examination and dissection of anatomic pathology specimens and the performance of postmortem examinations. PAs prepare tissue for numerous pathological tests including frozen section, flow cytometry and immunohistochemical staining. PAs may photograph gross and microscopic specimens, help prepare educational conferences and provide training to pathology personnel, including pathology residents. The duties of a pathologists’ assistant are not always limited to anatomic and surgical pathology; many PAs fill administrative, instructional and supervisory roles as well. PAs are a crucial extension of the pathologist in the healthcare setting, working as a liaison to other departments and laboratories to ensure quality healthcare.

Pathologists’ assistants perform in a wide scope of clinical practices. Although the majority of pathologists’ assistants work in academic and community hospitals, PAs can also be employed in other areas such as private pathology laboratories, forensic pathology laboratories and morgues, reference laboratories, government healthcare systems, and medical teaching facilities. Some PAs are even self-employed business owners providing their pathology expertise via long- and short-term contract.

Pathologists' assistants contribute to the overall efficiency of the laboratory or pathology practice in a cost effective manner. With increased pressure on healthcare systems to control costs, the demand for qualified pathologists' assistant is growing every year."

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