Guide to Pathology Assistant Programs Online

Learn about ways to earn your pathology assistant master’s degree partially online and get answers to your key questions about PathA programs.

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Last Updated: 09/22/2021
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Interested in a lucrative healthcare career that doesn’t require you to go to med school? If you have a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field, earning a pathology assistant master’s degree can be your ticket to get there. Pathologists’ assistants work alongside pathologists in medical laboratory settings examining and processing tissue samples, assisting with autopsies and medical diagnoses, managing clinical records, and overseeing laboratory operations.

This guide provides you with details on pursuing a pathology assistant program online. You’ll find answers to frequently asked questions and learn how to find accredited, affordable, and flexible pathology assistant master’s programs. Read on to learn more about this exciting field and how you can position yourself for success as a pathologists’ assistant.

How Online Learning Works in Pathology Assistant Programs

Since Master of Science pathology assistant programs require hands-on surgical and forensic learning, most courses are in-person. Some programs may, however, offer remote learning for the didactic learning portion of the degree. You’ll likely spend the first 10-12 months of the program, or nine to twelve classes, completing courses in on-campus, remote, or hybrid formats. Duke University, for example, begins its program with courses like surgical pathology, pathologic basis of clinical medicine, and human bodies and diseases.

Pathology assistant programs then require completion of 10 to 12 months of clinical rotations at approved medical and research facilities. Even with rapidly improving remote learning technologies in higher education, pathology assistant master’s programs still require significant in-person learning in laboratory settings.

What You’ll Learn in Pathology Assistant Programs Online

The courses in pathology assistant programs online vary among schools since curricula typically reflect the specialties of faculty and its available resources. However, each program covers similar foundational knowledge. Through a mixture of lectures and hands-on work, you’ll develop an understanding of ethical practices in the workplace, including hospital labs, academic institutions, and research facilities. You’ll also learn to assist with medical diagnoses, clinical research efforts, autopsies, and lab management. Specific learning outcomes to expect include:

  • The ability to handle sensitive documents and patient histories, including lab data, x-rays, and research documents. This includes proper storage and disposal of documents and data as needed using lab information systems.
  • A clear understanding of laboratory management skills, including the coordination of financial, human, and technological resources. Graduates can develop and follow a research plan or carry out lab or autopsy services per institutional, state, and federal regulations.
  • A deep understanding of the physiological functions and structure of normal and abnormal tissues, cells, and organs. Students learn to apply the specialized knowledge as it pertains to pathology examinations.
  • How to properly collect and handle specimens, conduct postmortem examinations, and examine case history documents as they pertain to issues under investigation.
  • Professional written and verbal communication skills. This includes the ability to prepare academic presentations and carry out effective communications with other healthcare providers, nurses, clinical staff, and technicians.

Common Courses in Pathology Assistant Programs Online

Clinical Terminology

This class develops an understanding of the clinical and medical terminology that pathology assistants use daily. Faculty pay special attention to terms related to the human organ system, autopsy pathology terms, and those widely used when examining surgical specimens in lab settings.

Pathology Lab Management

Lab management courses help students explore the everyday aspects of running a lab. Topics include lab regulations, finance, personnel management, and daily operations. Students may also learn about lab accreditation procedures, professional liability, corporate compliance, and lab ethics.

Introduction to Basic Human Pathology

Most pathologist assistant programs require this introductory course. Covering the basics, faculty ensure that students get a strong foundation in microscopic and gross pathology, neoplasia, and inflammation. Additionally, students explore the necessary components of the gastrointestinal, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems. Depending on the program, this course may also include studies into pediatric and adult pathology.

Clinical Pathology

This course develops an understanding of the essential aspects of organs and organ systems, including lymph nodes, white blood cells, breathing disorders, joints, tumors, and soft tissue. It also includes a close look at urinary tracts, the pancreas, and the endocrine system. Some schools break clinical pathology into two or three separate courses to be taken sequentially.

Human Microscopic Anatomy

This course explores human anatomy at the microscopic level and is typically divided into a series of labs and lectures while covering the cellular components of primary tissues, tissue identification, and functional anatomy. Faculty often use case studies to reflect the content students examine in labs and texts.

FAQs About Online Pathology Assistant Programs

What are the admissions requirements for online pathology assistant degree programs?

Pathology assistant programs usually only admit a small number of students and are relatively competitive. Many schools require incoming pathology assistant master’s students to possess a course history of prerequisite classes in areas like microbiology, anatomy, chemistry, and math. Depending on your school’s requirements, you might not be able to transfer prerequisite credit toward your pathology assistant master’s degree if you completed those classes online. Drexel University, for example, does not accept prerequisites earned online. Be sure to check with your prospective department for clarification before applying. Admission requirements also generally include:

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • Official transcripts
  • A 3.0 or higher GPA
  • GRE scores (sometimes optional)
  • Personal essay (sometimes optional)
  • Letters of recommendation (sometimes optional)

How long do online pathology assistant programs take to finish?

Master’s-level pathology assistant programs take about two years to complete, and most programs are full-time and require significant lab and hands-on work in clinical rotations, so you’ll take classes and complete requirements synchronously. Most programs also use a cohort model where you work progressively alongside your fellow students. As a result, this master’s degree is not offered in asynchronous or accelerated formats and usually takes a full 20-24 months to finish. Examples include the University of Toledo’s program at 20 months and Tulane University’s at 24 months.

How much do pathology assistant programs online cost?

The cost of pathology assistant programs online varies among schools and depends on how long you’re in school, how many credits your program requires for graduation, and how much funding you’ve received. In most cases, public colleges and universities cost less than private institutions. If your pathologists’ assistant program offers some online course instruction, you might be able to save tuition dollars there as well with costs associated with traveling to and from campus. The programs below give you an idea of the range of costs associated with pathology assistant programs.

Wayne State University

Master of Science in Pathologists’ Assistant

Total Credits: 77

$66,322/full program in-state, $128,035/full program out-of-state

University of Maryland

Master of Science in Pathologists’ Assistant

Total Credits: 38

$749/credit

Drexel University

Master of Science in Pathologists’ Assistant

Total Credits: 91

$1,342/credit

Is financial aid available for pathology assistant programs?

Some graduate schools, like Duke University through its Chancellor’s Scholarship for graduate students in the biomedical sciences, offer financial aid. Master’s students can also receive financial aid through the federal government in the form of grants or loans. Scholarships and loans from private sources and professional associations are also options. Begin by filling out your FAFSA whether or not you think you need financial aid. For more information on aid and scholarship opportunities, check out our financial aid and physician assistant scholarship pages.

Accreditation for Online Pathology Assistant Programs

When choosing a school for your pathology assistant program, make sure the institution holds either regional, the gold standard for academically focused programs, or national accreditation. Additionally, your pathology assistant program online should possess programmatic accreditation from the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). Earning your credentials through a NAACLS-certified program prepares you for the national certification exam after graduation.

Employment and Salary Outlook for Pathologists’ Assistants

The Bureau of Labor Statistics information (BLS) places pathology assistants within the umbrella of physician assistants who make a median annual wage of $115,390, almost triple that for all other occupations in the U.S. Pathology assistants in the lowest 10% make about $76,700 per year while the highest 10% make about $162,470 per year.

The BLS also projects a 31% growth in available positions in the field by 2029. This substantial growth is, in part, due to the aging baby boomer population. The healthcare system needs more professionals specializing in examining body tissue, diagnosing diseases, and identifying viruses and bacteria.

Pathologists’ Assistant Certification and Licensing

After completing your pathology assistant program online, you might consider earning your certification. However, not all states require pathology assistants to hold certification before they practice. To be eligible to sit for the certification exam, your master’s degree must come from a pathologists’ assistant program with accreditation from the National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).

Certification requires passing the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) exam. The PA(ASCP) exam is a two-and-a-half-hour, computer-based examination with 100 multiple-choice questions. Content areas include fundamentals of pathology, anatomic pathology techniques, anatomy, autopsy pathology, and laboratory operations. Keeping certification current requires completing 45 continuing education credits every three years. You can earn credits through several sources, including the American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants (AAPA).

Online Physician Assistant Programs

Similar to how a pathology assistant works alongside a pathologist, a physician’s assistant works closely with physicians and other healthcare professionals. PAs often work in patient-facing roles but may also work in research-heavy or education-focused positions. They typically complete a master’s degree and must pass a national certification exam to secure employment.

Online Medical Laboratory Technician Programs

If you’re looking for a role that’s lab- and research-focused but requires less time in school, a medical laboratory technician program might be a great fit because you can earn a diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. You’ll work with medical research findings to help physicians diagnose and treat patients for a wide variety of illnesses.

Online Resources for Pathology Assistant Students and Professionals

American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants

The AAPA is a professional membership organization that gives access to the latest news in the field, an active job board, annual conferences, online resources, and more. It also offers support services and scholarship opportunities for student members.

American Society for Clinical Pathology

This professional association based in Chicago offers its members the latest policy updates affecting the field, a career coaching center, volunteer opportunities, a mentoring program, and continuing education credit programs. Students can also apply for fellowships, grants, and scholarships through ASCP.

Geisinger Medical Labs

This collection of specialty resources, texts, exam prep materials, job boards, free software, and other online content helps pathologists’ assistant students and professionals. Nearly all these online resources are free.

National Association of Medical Examiners

This is a professional organization dedicated to supporting professionals who work as physician medical examiners, forensic pathologists, medicolegal death investigators, and beyond. Members can take advantage of an active job board, online training resources, and an annual conference. Students can also apply for NAME’s fellowship opportunity.

Pathology Assistant ACSP Exam Prep

Duke University offers this list of exam preparation resources for pathologists’ assistant students who want to seek certification. You can gain access to more than 2,500 practice questions, study resources, social media groups dedicated to exam prep, and other mobile-friendly study tools.

The Pathologist

This site hosts hundreds of articles detailing case studies and the latest updates for professionals working in just about every subspecialty of pathology. There’s also a dedicated feed for pathologists’ assistants. Access to posts and webinars is free.