Forensic Pathologist

Pathology is a specialty area in the field of forensics. A forensic pathologist is a medical doctor who performs autopsies to determine details concerning the death and the identification of an individual. These experts may examine recently expired bodies or those that have been decomposing for some time. An important component of this job includes the follow through of specific procedures and defined techniques for collecting evidence from the body.

Forensic pathologists, along with being medical professionals, are also required to work successfully in other related aspects of the field including toxicology, wound ballistics, trace evidence, serology and DNA technology.

Forensics pathologists generally follow the same educational path as a medical doctor. Educational steps to becoming a forensic pathologist include:

  • Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a relevant area of study, such as biology, biochemistry or a forensic science.
  • Complete four years of medical school studying to be an M.D. or D.O.
  • Complete four to five years combined in residency and training in anatomic and/or clinical pathology.

To become board-certified in forensic pathology, competence must be demonstrated by passing the American Board of Pathology exam and being licensed as a forensic pathologist.

Forensic Pathologist Job Description

Forensic pathologists investigate the medical issues related to a person’s death. They use examination techniques, both internally and externally, to determine the cause of the death, the time of death, the manner of death (natural causes, homicide, suicide, etc.) and any possible instruments or weapons used to cause injury or bring about the death.

If the identity of the body isn’t previously determined, a forensic pathologist may also be required to determine the identity.

A forensic pathologist runs laboratory tests such as toxicology, and organ and fluid cultures. Documenting history and recording results of all physical exams and laboratory tests is also a significant part of this job.

A forensic pathologist may carry out any number of responsibilities, including:

  • Establish the identities of unknown deceased persons.
  • Oversee and analyze the work of other staff who perform autopsies and tests.
  • Complete and analyze toxicology, pathology and other laboratory tests.
  • Evaluate and analyze evidence.
  • Write detailed reports containing evident medical conclusions.
  • Testify in court proceedings.
  • Work cooperatively with other law enforcement and medical professionals.

This profession requires a strong stomach, an analytical mind and attention to detail. Successful forensic pathologists often spend time testifying in court about their conclusions and cases, which demands strong communication skills.

Forensic Pathologist Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this profession has a greater than average growth expectation of 22% through 2018. Forensic pathology professionals are expected to be in highest demand in rural and lower socioeconomic areas.

The U.S. Department of Labor records salaries for forensic pathologists between approximately $180,000 and $330,000. They earn a median salary around $250,000. Forensic pathologist salaries vary based on geographic location and experience level.

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