Kaimātai Mate Tangata
Pathologists are doctors who study human diseases and conditions. They diagnose health problems by testing samples from tissues of the body, blood and other bodily fluids.
Trainee pathologists usually earn
$112K-$166K per year
Experienced pathologists usually earn
$150K-$216K per year
Source: NZ DHBs 'Senior Medical and Dental Officers Collective Agreement', 2016.
Pay varies for pathologists and for registrars (those in training), depending on seniority, hours, location and frequency of on-call or emergency cover.
- Registrars working for a district health board (DHB) usually earn between $70,000 and $175,000 a year.
- Qualified pathologists working for a DHB usually earn between $151,000 and $212,000.
Source: New Zealand District Health Boards Senior Medical and Dental Officers Collective Agreement, 1 July 2013 to 20 June 2016.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Pathologists may do some or all of the following:
- study and test tissue and fluids for disease
- diagnose diseases such as cancer and diabetes
- take samples of body tissue and fluids
- find genetic causes of disease
- write detailed reports
- provide advice for medical practitioners
- investigate deaths and complete autopsies
- research diseases to find cures
- teach medical students and trainees
- monitor treatment of diseases.
Skills and knowledge
Pathologists need to have knowledge of:
- how the human body works
- different diseases and illnesses, and how to diagnose them
- medicines and treatments, and the effect these have on the body
- the chemistry of the body
- anatomy and medical surgical procedures
- current research and practices in their field.
- may work regular business hours, or may be on call if they work in hospitals
- work in hospital laboratories, private laboratories and medical schools
- work with infectious material – laboratories have very strict health and safety standards to minimise risks
- travel throughout New Zealand and overseas to attend meetings, seminars and workshops.
What's the job really like?
What keeps the work interesting?
“It's absolutely fascinating. I see and learn something different every day. The knowledge seems endless and I get to look at incredible things that other people never see down a microscope. It's quite an amazing perspective of the world.
“I see some amazing things: tumours the size of basketballs right down to incredibly rare conditions that you might see once in a lifetime."
What does the work involve?
"I work with surgeons and general practitioners who send me samples to interpret. I look at what is under the microscope to determine what the sample is – is it a freckle or a nasty melanoma? I then give them a diagnosis so that the GP can tell the patient the news, and if necessary, proceed with treatment. Patients are the focus of my work."
Don’t doctors work very long hours?
"I was working 80 hours a week as a junior doctor when I met a pathologist who worked part time. His office was filled with his own art that he did in the other part of his life. I realised then that this was the lifestyle I wanted. The type of work and the hours I do now are a lifestyle choice."
To become a pathologist you need to:
- complete the Health Sciences First Year programme at Otago University, or the first year of either the Bachelor of Health Sciences or Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science at Auckland University
- complete a five-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree at Otago or Auckland Universities
- work for two years as a house officer (supervised junior doctor) in a hospital
- complete another five years of specialist training and examinations to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia.
- University of Otago website - information about the Health Sciences First Year programme
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- University of Auckland website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia website - information on pathologist training
- Medical Council of New Zealand - information on pathologist training
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include maths with calculus and/or statistics, chemistry, physics, biology and English.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
Pathologists need to be:
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- analytical, with problem-solving skills
- able to work well under pressure
- excellent at data analysis and interpretation
- good at communicating
- good at report writing.
Useful experience for pathologists includes:
- work in healthcare in hospitals or clinics
- work in a laboratory
- work caring for people.
Pathologists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
Pathologists need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.
Find out more about training
- Health Careers
- Medical Council of New Zealand
- 0800 286 801 - www.mcnz.org.nz
- Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA)
- firstname.lastname@example.org - www.rcpa.edu.au
What are the chances of getting a job?
Number of factors contribute to shortage of pathologists
Pathologists are in demand as there is a shortage of workers due to:
- New Zealand's growing and ageing population, which means increasing demand for pathologists to diagnose diseases
- an ageing workforce – nearly a third of specialist doctors, including pathologists, are over 55 years old and due to retire in the next 10 years
- more criminal cases need forensic pathologists
- a worldwide shortage of specialist doctors, including pathologists, which means it can be hard to attract pathologists from overseas to work here.
According to the Census, 327 pathologists worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Pathologists work for public and private hospitals
Pathologists work in:
- Public hospitals for District Health Boards
- Private hospitals
- Labtests NZ
- The Medical Schools at the Universities of Auckland and Otago for teaching and research purposes.
- Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, ‘Hospital Specialist Shortage even Grimmer than Latest Figures Suggest’, 14 December 2015, (www.asms.org.nz).
- Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, ‘Staffing Shortages Push National Forensic Pathology Service to the Brink', 5 August 2016, (www.asms.org.nz).
- Makiha, K, 'Forensic Shortage Irks Judge', 10 March 2016, (www.nzherald.co.nz).
- Medical Council of New Zealand, ‘The Workforce Survey’, May 2016, (www.mcnz.org.nz).
- Pennington, Phil, ‘Crisis Time for Forensic Pathology, Doctor Warns’, 5 April 2016, (www.radionz.co.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
- The Forensic Group, ‘Forensic Pathology in New Zealand’, 11 March 2016, (www.theforensicgroup.co.nz).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Pathologists may progress to teach students and trainee pathologists at larger hospitals and universities. They may also become clinical directors, combining an administrative role with a pathology role.
Pathologists may also specialise in roles such as:
- Anatomical Pathologist
- Anatomical pathologists study organs and tissues to help determine the cause and effect of diseases. They are primarily involved in diagnosing cancers.
- Cytopathologists study cells from fluid samples taken by scraping a lesion on a body or with a needle.
- Forensic Pathologist
- Forensic pathologists investigate unexpected deaths, analyse criminal cases and assist the police in a range of investigations.
- Genetic Pathologist
- Genetic pathology involves testing chromosomes and DNA from cells in body fluids and tissues, and diagnosing genetic diseases.
- Haematologists deal with diseases that affect the blood, such as anaemia and leukaemia and may also work in blood typing and compatibility testing, and the management and supply of a large range of blood products.
- Histopathologists study tissues from patients to check if a disease is present.
- Immunopathologists study and test specimens from the immune system.
- Microbiologists deal with diseases caused by infectious agents, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites through testing blood, body fluids and tissue samples.
Last updated 9 April 2020