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What is a PA?

What is a Pathologists' Assistant?

A pathologists’ assistant is a highly trained allied health professional.

A pathologists’ assistant (PA) provides various services under the direction and supervision of a pathologist. PAs interact with pathologists in a manner similar to physician assistants in surgical and medical practice, carrying out their duties under the direction of their physicians. PAs are academically and practically trained to provide accurate and timely processing of a variety of laboratory specimens, including the majority of pathological specimens. PAs are key components to helping make a pathologic diagnosis, but it is the sole province of the pathologist to render a diagnosis.

The majority of pathologists’ assistants are responsible for the gross examination and dissection of anatomic pathology specimens and the performance of postmortem examinations. PAs prepare tissue for numerous pathological tests including frozen section, flow cytometry and immunohistochemical staining. PAs may photograph gross and microscopic specimens, help prepare educational conferences and provide training to pathology personnel, including pathology residents. The duties of a pathologists’ assistant are not always limited to anatomic and surgical pathology; many PAs fill administrative, instructional and supervisory roles as well. PAs are a crucial extension of the pathologist in the healthcare setting, working as a liaison to other departments and laboratories to ensure quality healthcare.

Pathologists’ assistants perform in a wide scope of clinical practices. Although the majority of pathologists’ assistants work in academic and community hospitals, PAs can also be employed in other areas such as private pathology laboratories, forensic pathology laboratories and morgues, reference laboratories, government healthcare systems, and medical teaching facilities. Some PAs are even self-employed business owners providing their pathology expertise via long- and short-term contract.

Pathologists' assistants contribute to the overall efficiency of the laboratory or pathology practice in a cost effective manner. With increased pressure on healthcare systems to control costs, the demand for qualified pathologists' assistant is growing every year.

Scope of Practice for Pathologists' Assistants

Refer to Article III, Section B of the AAPA Bylaws

  • specimen accessioning
  • obtain clinical history
  • describe gross features of surgical specimens
  • prepare tissues for processing for light microscopy
  • obtain samples for studies such as: flow cytometry, image analysis, research, cytogenetics, cultures, electron microscopy, immunofluorescence
  • perform special procedures including x-ray imaging, frozen sections, tumor triage
  • photograph gross specimens and microscopic slides
  • assure legal authorization for autopsy
  • obtain medical records/charts for review
  • consult with attending pathologist to identify special techniques to be utilized during the examination, including cultures, toxicology, coronary artery perfusion, enucleation, etc.
  • coordinate any requests for special specimen sampling such as organ transplantation, research
  • perform postmortem examinations including external exam, in-situ organ inspection, evisceration, organ dissection and dictation of findings
  • prepare tissues for processing for light microscopy and special studies
  • photograph the body, organs, microscopic slides and other pertinent materials
  • prepare the preliminary summarization of the clinical history
  • prepare the body for release to the appropriate mortuary or funeral home
  • maintenance of surgical/autopsy pathology protocols, procedures, reports and data
  • assure proper maintenance of equipment
  • assure provision of adequate supplies for and cleanliness of the surgical and autopsy suites
  • assist in organization and coordination of pathology conferences
  • assist in preparation for accreditation inspections (CAP, Joint Commission)
  • performance of budgetary duties
  • performance of supervisory/management duties
  • teach pathology residents, medical students, pathology students

Sustaining Members

2345 Rice St, Suite 220 | St. Paul, MN 55113 | Phone 800.532.AAPA | Fax 651.317.8048 | Email info@pathassist.org