About the Profession

The pathologists’ assistant career began in 1969 in response to the increase in demand for qualified assistants in the specialty of anatomic pathology while the number of pathology residents was decreasing. The profession has emerged as one of the fastest growing specialties in medicine, focusing on surgical and autopsy pathology, with additional training in laboratory management, clinical pathology, forensics, and biomedical photography.

In practice, pathologists’ assistants are responsible for the processing of the surgical pathology specimen from receipt to dissection, and description to submission of tissue to histology. In autopsy practice, the pathologists’ assistant is involved in reviewing the medical record of the decedent, evisceration, dissection, and selection of tissue for submission to histology. The PA may also formulate a preliminary anatomic diagnosis and autopsy report under the direction of a pathologist. Many pathologists’ assistants are involved in laboratory management, teaching at the university level, training of residents and medical students, or research.

Mission and Goals

The mission of the program is to provide a high quality educational experience leading to a Master’s of Health Science degree (MHS) as a Pathologists’ Assistant. This degree prepares graduates for their integral role as a member of the healthcare team.

The goals of the program are:

  • To provide a program for pathologists’ assistants which meets the academic standards of the University.
  • To offer high quality, skilled graduates for a variety of healthcare settings in both surgical and autopsy services.
  • To provide an educational background which enables graduates to assume teaching and supervisory roles in pathology and medical laboratories.


Although the program academically prepares students to pass the national certifying exam administered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), granting of the MHS degree is not contingent upon passing any external certification exam, only successful completion of the approved program curriculum.

Graduates will:

Demonstrate proficiency in surgical pathology.

  • Distinguish between normal and abnormal tissue both grossly and microscopically.
  • Choose the appropriate tissue to submit based on clinical history.
  • Gross complex surgical cases using the most recent cancer staging protocols.
  • Choose the appropriate stains - routine, special, or IHC - to assist the pathologist in making a diagnosis

Demonstrate proficiency in autopsy pathology.

  • Perform an autopsy using different techniques.
  • Gather pertinent clinical history and all necessary documentation for a case.
  • Compose a gross description for the autopsy report.
  • Select tissue for processing.

Demonstrate concepts in medical laboratory management.

  • Apply management principles to regulation and professional oversight.
  • Compare healthcare delivery systems.
  • Discuss ethical principles and decision making.
  • Identify basic management concepts, functions, and styles.

Determine a differential diagnosis for tumors based on gross appearance and clinical history.

Engage in activities and behavior that both promote the profession and represent the program in a positive manner.

Instruct residents, medical students, and other health professionals in surgical and autopsy techniques.