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What is a Pathologists' Assistant?
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 A pathologists’ assistant (PA) is a highly trained allied health professional who provides various services under the direction and supervision of a pathologist.  Pathologists' assistants interact with pathologists in a manner similar to physician’s 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.


Refer to Article III, Section B of the AAPA Bylaws

Surgical Pathology

Autopsy Pathology

Administrative Duties

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



  • prepare the preliminary summarization of the clinical history
  • teach pathology residents, medical students, pathology students
  • prepare the body for release to the appropriate mortuary or funeral home


Sustaining Members

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