Medical School Pathology: Bringing the Various Subjects Together

What is Medical School Pathology?

Pathology is the study of diseases. So in this course, you will be learning about diseases: causes, symptoms, appearance, and more. I dare say that this is one of the two most important courses you will be learning in the second year of medical school (the other course being pharmacology).

Reason #1. This subject is heavily tested on the Step 1 board exam. So being good at pathology would help you get a high board exam score.

Reason #2. In addition, having a wide knowledge of pathology would help you become a better physician. The more diseases you know, the better you can come up with good differential diagnoses (possible illnesses). The better your differential diagnoses are, the more likely you will accurately diagnose the patient. Once you have an accurate diagnosis, you are then able to give the proper treatment.

Reason #3. Lastly, medical school pathology ties together many, if not all, of the subjects you have learned throughout medical school. It ties in biochemistry (i.e when learning about gout), physiology (i.e. when learning about chronic heart failure), histology (i.e. when looking at liver fatty changes under the microscope), immunology (i.e. when learning about inflammation and necrosis), etc. If a pathology course is properly taught, you should be reviewing a couple of things from every course.

This course will have a lot of images. On your school exams and on the board exams, expect to see images as well. There are basically two types of images you can see: gross and microscopic.

medical school pathology - aortic stenosis

This is a gross image of rheumatic heart disease. You can see that aortic valve (center) has been fused. This results in aortic stenosis.

medical school pathology - fatty liver

This is a microscopic image of liver steatosis (fatty changes). The white or clear spots are the fats. This should remind you very much of histology.

Medical School Pathology in My School

Pathology course in my school was okay. It was not the most well-taught course, but it was not the most poorly-taught course either. That distinction goes to clinical medicine. Overall, I do not have anything negative to say about the course.

The courses is mainly lectures and exams. Going to lecture was optional. As long as you learn the materials and can pass the exams, you will pass the course.

How to Succeed in Medical School Pathology?

In the beginning of the first semester, I was scoring less than average. But by the end of the first semester, I was scoring more than average. The main study changes I have been within the first semester are doing more practice questions, skipping class, and learning from Pathoma (see additional medical school pathology resources for more details).

For my very first exam, I did about 40 questions, attended class, and studied from the lecture slides. I remember being disappointed because my score was lower than average. In the next exam, I did as many questions as I can (maybe 100 or so), skipped class, studied from Pathoma, and quickly read through the lecture slides. The change in study method worked as I scored higher than average.

The new method can still work even if you do not spend too much time on the course. In the second semester, crammed the block’s materials over a weekend before the exam. I would I do admit that in the second semester, I did consistently lower than average because I spent less time on the course compared to the first semester. (I was trying to spend as much time as I can on preparing for the first board exam.) Still, I did decently in this course; I high passed and I am satisfied.

Study Tips

  • skip class
  • study from Pathoma
  • read lecture slide
  • do practice questions

Additional Medical School Pathology Resources

There are lots of additional resources you can use to learn the subject. In fact, I would recommend that you pick up an additional resource, especially if you want to be prepared for the USMLE or COMLEX. For me, the additional resources were key for me to doing well on the exam.


Unless you are going to become a pathologist, there really is no reason for you to get Pathologic Basis of Disease by Robbins & Cotran. If you are going to get the book, do not read it from beginning to end. Instead, use it as a reference.

Most medical students use Rapid Review Pathology by Goljan to prepare for the exams.

It is an excellent book, although it is a bit lengthy. Many medical students also go through Goljan’s lectures too. Learning from Goljan is a tried and true method of doing well in pathology.

For me, the Rapid Review Pathology book was way too long. Instead, I opted for Pathoma.


Click on the picture to go to Pathoma website.

The book is much shorter, at 200 something pages. In addition, the book comes with lectures presented by Dr. Husain A. Sattar, who teaches in University of Chicago. Pathoma is an excellent, condensed resource that will teach you pathology well. It is like Goljan, but even more high yield. If you are pressed for time, this is the book for you.

Read my review on Pathoma in the medical school books section.

Online Resource(s)

There is only one online resource you need: WebPath.

The practice questions I did were all through WebPath. If you have the time, or if you are not using Rapid Review Pathology or Pathoma, you can learn your pathology through the website.

Overall, WebPath is excellent. Definitely check it out.

Hey, you! Do you want to know how an accountant, without a science background, made it through medical school without any difficulty? Do you want to know how I memorized a sea of information without cracking my skull in half and dumping the books into my brain? No, I did not slave away all night studying in the library either. If you want to know my complete study system, check out The Secret of Studying.

This article is part of the How to Survive Medical School series. Click on the link if you want more tips and hints about surviving academic hell.

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