What Does a Veterinary Pathologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Male vet examining a cat while female vet writing prescription
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Veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases and other conditions through the examination of animal tissue and bodily fluids. They play an important role in veterinary medicine because veterinarians are better informed about an animal's condition through their findings. They can then make the best determination for the animal's care.

Veterinary pathologists usually specialize by working in either anatomical veterinary pathology or clinical veterinary pathology. Anatomical veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases based on examination of organs, tissues, and bodies, while clinical veterinary pathologists diagnose based on the laboratory analysis of bodily fluids, including urine and blood.

Veterinary Pathologist Duties & Responsibilities

Veterinary pathologists are veterinarians. The job requires an ability to do the following work:

  • Perform biopsies or necropsies.
  • Determine cause of disease through observation and laboratory analysis.
  • Advise veterinarians in the field about diseases they detect in sample tissues or fluids.

Veterinary pathologists might also contribute to the development of drugs and other animal health products. They may conduct scientific research studies and advise government agencies about the spread and progression of various animal diseases that may affect herd health. These pathologists were responsible for diagnosing some of the well-known diseases affecting large animal populations that have hit the news, including swine flu (the H1N1 virus) and the bird (or avian) flu.

Veterinary Pathologist Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes veterinary pathologists in its data for veterinarians in general. The median incomes for veterinarians in 2018 were:

  • Median Annual Salary: $93,830 ($45.10/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $162,450 ($78.10/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $56,540 ($27.18/hour)

Veterinary pathologists working in industrial fields, especially in pharmaceutical drug development, tend to earn top dollar.

Education, Training & Certification

Those looking for a career as a veterinary pathologist will need extensive schooling and certification.

  • Education: Veterinary pathologists must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree before pursuing a multi-year residency which provides additional specialty training.
  • Additional Training: The path to board certification requires three years of additional training after achieving your DVM degree. Those pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the field must complete even more training. Coursework can include immunology, molecular biology, necropsy and biopsy, and hematology.
  • Certification: The final step in the process requires passing a rigorous board certification exam. The American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) administers the certifying exam in the United States. The ACVP boasts more than 2,000 members in 17 countries. The organization also provides scholarship opportunities and maintains a listing of externships that are designed to help aspiring veterinary pathologists gain the necessary experience to enter the field.
  • Externship: United States-based externships are available at many top facilities, including Johns Hopkins, MIT, Purdue University, Texas A&M, Emory University, Wake Forest, the National Institute of Health, the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab, SeaWorld, and the Smithsonian National Zoo.
  • Continuing Education: Continuing education credits must also be completed annually in order to maintain certification status.

Veterinary Pathologist Skills & Competencies

You should have several essential qualities to succeed at becoming a veterinary pathologist:

  • Verbal and writing skills: You must be able to accurately and clearly convey your findings to veterinarians and others on the treatment team.
  • Manual dexterity: You'll be using a wide variety of medical instruments, sometimes on minisule samples and delicate tissue.
  • Analytical skills: You must accurately interpret what you find and the results of various tests.
  • A thick skin: This occupation requires a strong personality because these pathologists aren't necessarily dealing with live animals. They may be handling deceased animals, tissues, or fluids.

    Job Outlook

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't separate the specialty of veterinary pathology from data for all veterinary careers, but it does project a positive outlook for those pursuing a career in any veterinary-related occupation.

    According to the BLS, the veterinary industry should experience growth of about 19% between 2016 and 2026. This is due to a rapid increase in the way consumers are spending on animal healthcare and wellbeing. The agency also cited quick advancements in veterinary medicine and technology.

    The limited number of veterinary pathology residencies, combined with the rigorous nature of pathology training programs and board certification exams, should translate to continued demand for qualified professionals in this specialty animal health career.

    Work Environment

    Veterinary hospitals, colleges and universities, government agencies, research laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and diagnostic laboratories all hire vet pathologists. According to the ACVP, 44% of veterinary pathology diplomats work in private industry, 33% work in academia, and the remaining 33% work with government agencies or other private employers.

    Of those working in private industry, nearly 60% are employed by pharmaceutical companies.

    Work Schedule

    Most veterinarians work full time, including those in various specialties. Working nights and weekends is not uncommon, although this is generally reserved for emergency situations with living pets.

    How to Get the Job

    CHOOSE THE BEST SCHOOL FOR YOU

    Study.com offers an interactive school search tool for veterinary programs to help you zero in on factors that are important to you.

    CONSIDER SPECIALIZING

    Further specialization is possible for those who pursue doctorate degrees in molecular biology, toxicology, and other pathology-related fields. It's very common for pathologists to choose to focus on just one particular type of animal. For example, the American Association of Avian Pathologists addresses only issues related to birds.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: