Veterinary Pathologist at a glance
Median salaries for pathologists are £50K+ in the UK and £130K+ in the USA. Salaries are highly variable, depending on the country and the area of pathology you choose to work in.
Around 45 per week
Flexibility will vary depending on the type of position you choose. Being self-employed, my current position is very flexible because I can design my own schedule. As you might expect, work-life balance is also highly variable, and is related to the type of job you choose.
Good communication skills
National travel approximately 5-6 times each year, for meetings.
Postgraduate training in pathology (3 year programme) Certifying examination in veterinary pathology
Seek out work-shadowing opportunities
Re-format your CV, tailoring it to highlight pathology-relevant experiences
Find a mentor to advise you on both of the above, and more!
What were your first career steps and how did that work out?
I worked in mixed general practice for 3 years and really enjoyed it. Ultimately, it provided a valuable foundation for the rest of my career.
So how did you decide to become a veterinary pathologist?
One of the aspects I especially liked about being a practitioner was the investigative aspect of working up clinical cases—analysing all the diagnostic data and correlating them with clinical findings and history, to help guide case management. I'd really enjoyed pathology at vet school, too, for the same reason, but had wanted to initially work in practice for a while after graduation. This combination naturally led me to begin thinking about specialising in pathology after a few years.
What did you need to do to get into this career path?
I undertook a residency training programme in anatomic pathology so I could take the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) board-certifying exam. Alternatively, you can choose a residency programme at one of the UK or European schools in preparation to take the specialty examinations of the Royal College of Pathologists, European College of Veterinary Pathologists, or ACVP (check the eligibility rules—they differ for each exam).
If you're interested in taking the ACVP certifying exam, but want to stay in the UK or Europe to do your residency training programme, this is still possible. If you wish to specialise in anatomic pathology, find a programme at a school where there are ACVP or ECVP board-certified pathologists (currently, each can serve as sponsors for the other's certifying exam).
However, if you wish to specialise in clinical pathology and take the ACVP exam, you'll need to train with someone who's ACVP board certified. Currently, there's no reciprocity between ACVP and ECVP for exam sponsorship in this specialty.
A former boss always stressed that there are 2 things we should never always do alone—potholing and biopsy reading. Both can land you in trouble if you refuse help.
Were there any barriers to entry and how did you overcome them?
I didn't experience any barriers
What are the best bits about your current role and are there any downsides?
My favourite aspects of being a pathologist centre on the investigative nature of my work, and on how this role leads me to collaborate with other veterinarians in different disciplines, as well as with scientific researchers. I'm currently a self-employed consultant, so the flexibility of this role is what I enjoy the most. It allows me to really individualise my workflow to suit my preferences, choosing the type of work that most appeals to me. The downside of self-employment is having to do all those things that other experts usually do for you in the workplace (like taking care of computer problems)! And, for me, the downside of being a pathologist is no longer having the daily interactions with clients and their pets. But I can't have everything!
Could you give us an overview of a typical day/tasks?
I spent 14 years working in academia, so old habits die hard, and my work still revolves around the 3 academic missions—service, research, and education. The service side relates to the diagnostic pathology work that I do, and the research side relates to my collaborations with academic scientists to provide pathology support for their research projects. On the education front, even though I have left full-time academia, I've continued to serve in an adjunct capacity with vet schools, and continue to mentor vet students and pathology residents. I also serve on several education- and examination-focussed committees at national and international levels.
What sort of person would thrive in this career path?
Pathology is a great career for anyone who enjoys the detective work that goes into patient management, and who likes the nerdy science stuff that is the backbone of pathology. Some helpful personality traits to have: Good communication skills (you'll need to translate all that nerdy stuff into something relevant and meaningful that other vets can use as they manage their cases); A collaborative spirit (contrary to old wives’ tales, pathologists don't just hide away behind a locked door and never communicate with the outside world—we have other fellow vets to help! That means a lot of conversations and emails every day, working in an interdisciplinary manner.); Humility (pathology is very much a team sport, so you'll need to be willing to ask for opinions from other pathologists. I've been doing this for 19 years, and I still see weird and wonderful things every day. Being able to say "I don't know exactly what this is," is a huge trust-builder.); And an acceptance of being cross-examined (there's an old joke that if you ask 10 pathologists a question, you'll get at least 11 different answers!)
What advice would you give to someone becoming a veterinary pathologist?
Pathology residency positions are competitive to get into, so you'll need to have something on your CV to highlight your interest in this field if you decide to apply. If you're still at the pondering stage and want to figure out if pathology is for you, contact some different pathologists (at vet schools, diagnostic labs, Government labs, etc) and arrange to do some work shadowing—much like you did when you were thinking about applying to vet school. This will give you an idea if you might like the work involved. If you already know you want to apply, some useful additions to your CV might include: multiple shadowing experiences across a range of pathology organisations and involving different species; attending pathology rounds sessions, say at a vet school (or medical school); any research you've been involved in; journal publications you've authored; any technical lab work you may have done, maybe in a histology laboratory; and any teaching you may have done that focussed on animal diseases, for instance.
If I can help you with any questions you might have, don't hesitate to drop me a note. You can contact me through LinkedIn, or via the VSGD mentorship page on Facebook. I'll be happy to help.