Forensic pathologists, or medical examiners, are specially trained physicians who examine the bodies of people who died suddenly, unexpectedly, or violently.
A forensic pathology practitioner will analyze the medical history of the deceased individual and crime scene evidence and witness testimonials, perform an autopsy to assess whether death was caused by injury or disease, as well to collect further evidence from the body.
In most jurisdictions, there are five main legally recognized causes of death: natural, homicide, suicide, accident and undetermined. After his investigation is complete, a forensic pathologist is required to document his findings in a report and sometimes may be required to testify in court. As such forensic pathologists are often crucial witnesses in court trials involving death, as their testimony and credibility can help determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence.
The work in this field is hard, the hours long, and the responsibilities numerous. It’s a tough job by all means, and considering a forensic pathologist has to deal with people past away on a day to day basis, this is not a career for the weak of heart, or stomach moreover! However, not only is the career prospect incredibly appealing and the paycheck makes up for the efforts and sacrifices, a forensic pathologist actually makes a difference in the world.
To become a forensic pathologist, typically one has to go through minimum of 13 years of post high school education and training. Considering this career heavily relies on biology, chemistry, physics, and other core sciences, an aspirant must have strong aptitude for science.
The first step is to get an undergraduate degree in a medical or science discipline, before completing a four-year medical school program to become a M.D. During your undergraduate education, you may choose whatever major you like, but keep in mind that certain classes are required for admission to medical school. Be sure to thoroughly research your post-undergrad options and requirements, which vary from institution to institution, before choosing your bachelor curriculum.
After you graduate from med school, you will be required to pass a licensing exam to become a M.D. Hopefully, after you’ve become a licensed M.D., you’ll be ready to enroll in a four-year residency in anatomic and clinical pathology. An extra one-year of forensic pathology residency, will be required afterwards, before ultimately you’ll be allowed to attend your regional pathology and forensic pathology board exams. After you pass these, you’re eligible to enter this career field.
Average Salary 2023
According to the salary.com, the average salary for a Forensic Pathologist in 2023 was $96,076.
Want to know more?
- ItsGov-Forensic Pathologist
- Explore Health Careers-Forensic Pathologist
- National Board of Medical Examiners
Belonging to professional organizations & LinkedIn groups can provide you with networking, informational interviewing, & job shadowing opportunities, as well as assist you with finding internships and jobs.
- American Society for Investigative Pathology
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences
- American Society for Crime Lab Directors
- List of Professional Organizations
Websites for some of the state and federal programs include:
- Central Intelligence Agency Internship Program
- Federal Law Enforcement Training Center Internship Programs
- United States Department of Justice Internships
*You may also want to check with private forensic labs to see if they have internships available.
Forensic science volunteer programs
When you join a volunteer program, you will not receive any salary or compensation, but you will learn valuable lessons that can be applied to your forensic training. The volunteer programs will likely be related to basic criminal justice or law enforcement, as opposed to actually "practicing" any forensic science. Such programs will, however, give you an introduction to the criminal justice field and acquaint you with some forensic scientists. As a forensic science volunteer, you will also provide valuable help to law enforcement professionals and the community.
To find an opportunity, contact your municipal police department or county sheriff's office and inquire about volunteer programs. They will likely have a program that will provide you with experience as a registration aide, victim assistor, data entry clerk, or another job. Though this work may not be specifically related to forensics, you will gain a valuable introduction to the world of criminal justice.
Forensic science research programs
To join a forensic science research program, you should check with private laboratories and businesses in addition to traditional colleges and universities. There are many options available in the private sector.
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences
- American Board of Criminalistics
- American Board of Forensic Entomology
- American Board of Forensic Toxicology
- Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners
- Forensic Science Society
- Microscopy Society of America
- Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists
- Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists
- Society of Forensic Toxicologists
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