Pathologists study the nature, cause, development and effects of disease. They provide and interpret laboratory information essential to medical diagnosis and patient care.

There are two main areas of pathology:

Anatomical: dealing with the gross and microscopic structural changes produced by disease in the tissues of the body and associated physiological abnormalities, one sub-speciality is neuropathology;

Clinical: dealing with the chemical and physiological variations of disease as seen in body fluids and tissues.

Their usual tasks are to examine microscope slides to identify diseases or other abnormalities, to diagnose diseases or study medical conditions using techniques such as gross pathology, histology, cytology, clinical chemistry, immunology and molecular biology, and to write pathology reports summarising their analyses, results and conclusions.  They identify the pathogenesis, change and clinical significance of diseases.  They analyse and interpret results from tests such as microbial or parasite tests, urine analyses, hormonal assays and fine needle aspirations, and communicate the pathologic findings to surgeons or other physicians.  They obtain specimens by perorming procedures such as biopsies and fine needles aspirations of superficial nodules.

Pathologists diagnose infections, such as Hepatitis B or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) by conducting tests to detect the antibodies that the patients' immune systems make to fight the infections.  They may consult with physicians about ordering and interpreting tests or providing treatments, and conduct genetic analyses of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or chromosomes to diagnose small biopsies and cell samples.

Other tasks are to plan and supervise the work of the pathology staff, residents or visiting pathologists, and review cases by analysing autopsies, laboratory findings or case investigation reports, to educate physicians, students and other personnel in medical laboratory professions such as medical technology, cytotechnology and histotechnology.  They manage medical laboratories and develop or adapt new tests or instruments to improve diagnosis or diseases.

They read current literature, consult with colleagues, and participate in professional organisations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in pathology. 

Some pathologists perform autopsies to determine the nature and extent of diseases, the cause of death and the effects of treatment. They may be required to testify in depositions or trials as an expert witness.  Others supervise and coordinate the performance and reporting of a wide range of diagnostic and screening tests and maintain a rigid system of quality control to ensure the accuracy of test results.

Many pathologists are involved in research concerning the nature and origins of disease and the possibilities for prevention and cure. Some pathologists teach medical students, nurses and other health science students.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Note: Competition to enter medical studies is stiff and there are usually many applicants with good grades who tend to be given preference.

What to Study

Degree: MBChB degree

  • Theoretical training: 6 years
  • Student internship: 1 year
  • Internship: 2 years
  • Community Service: 1 year at an approved medical faculty.

    Registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is mandatory for this occupation. Registration as an Independent Medical Practitioner with the HPCSA will only be permitted once all the necessary criteria have been met.

    Specialisation in Pathology

    To specialise in this area, a number of years of post-graduate study will be required.

    Consult the HPCSA website for the most up-to-date information relating to this area of specialization. This information can be found in the various sections under the Professional Board for Medical and Dental (and medical science) professionals.
    Refer to the medical faculty of the relevant university for additional information.  



  • hospitals, clinics and other medical institutions
  • educational institutions
  • government health and legal departments
  • research institutions
  • private practice

Further Information

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
P O Box 205
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 338-9301 Fax: (012) 328-5120

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a morgue
  • arrange to speak to a pathologist about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

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