How to become a forensic pathologist

Forensic pathology is perhaps one of the most well-known pathology specialties – it’s also one of the smallest. Forensic pathologists provide vital expertise in cases where a person has died in suspicious circumstances.

Forensic pathology is a service provided to coroners and police forces in England and Wales to assist investigations into homicide or suspicious deaths. In Scotland, this responsibility lies with procurators fiscal. Forensic pathologists specialise in performing post mortems for medical and legal purposes, to understand the cause and manner of death. They may follow a case from a crime scene through to giving evidence in criminal court. How to become a forensic pathologist

A key aspect of their role is performing autopsies on the bodies of people who have died in suspicious circumstances – such as suicide, suspected homicides or deaths in custody. Because of this, forensic pathologists usually carry out examinations under the authority of a coroner or procurator fiscal. Their findings can play a fundamental role in bringing perpetrators to justice. And they are responsible for attending a variety of courts to explain details of cases they’re working on to juries as well as relatives.

Alongside this, forensic pathologists share duties with their colleagues across cellular pathology – writing reports to share their findings and teaching trainees in their profession. While most of their work focuses on suspicious deaths, they are sometimes called on to interpret the injuries of live victims to assist criminal cases. They will also conduct autopsies in cases of unexplained death.

What will my working environment be like?

As a forensic pathologist, your time will be split between mortuaries, hospitals, the courts, and, sometimes, crime scenes, which will require regular travel. You’ll mostly work independently, with the support of police, procurators fiscal and coroners’ officers, and mortuary staff. You’ll be in contact with other pathologists, as well as people in the criminal justice system, such as barristers. You’ll be in contact with other pathologists, as well as people in the criminal justice system, such as police, barristers and lawyers.

What skills will I need?

  • Good communication skills – you’ll need to prepare comprehensive technical reports on your findings but testify on them in court to a lay audience.
  • A flexible approach to working – the working life of a forensic pathologist is unconventional compared with other specialties. Every day will be different and travel will be required.
  • The ability to cope under pressure – your working environment will be inherently linked with stressful life events, and you’ll need to be prepared for the challenge of being cross-examined in Crown Court.

How will I train?

To become a forensic pathologist, you’ll need to complete:

  • undergraduate training at medical school
  • the UK Foundation Training Programme or equivalent.

You can then choose to specialise during specialty training in histopathology, or afterwards, as a qualified histopathologist, neuropathologist or paediatric pathologist.

Forensic pathologists undergo more than a decade of training to qualify for this complex job. You will invest a great deal of training preparing for a forensic pathology career, so it’s important to know what’s required. Understanding how to become a forensic pathologist will help you make the right choices for your educational future. In this article, we explore what forensic pathologists do and how you can become one.

What is a forensic pathologist?

A forensic pathologist, also known as a medical examiner, is someone who collects information from a variety of sources and examines the evidence to determine the cause of an individual’s death. They collect information from a variety of sources and evaluate the evidence carefully. The forensic pathologist must conclude the most likely reasons for death. This professional will then complete the appropriate paperwork stating that the cause of death was homicide, suicide, natural, accidental or unknown.

Someone in this career path may also choose to become a clinical forensic pathologist. A clinical forensic pathologist examines and collects evidence from living patients. This is most common in cases of abuse or sexual assault.

A forensic pathologist’s responsibilities include:

  • Evaluating the patient’s medical history
  • Examining the crime scene
  • Collecting witness statements
  • Collecting and analyzing trace evidence from the body
  • Conducting an autopsy
  • Preparing written reports

Testifying to their findings in court

Average salary for a forensic pathologist

Becoming a forensic pathologist can encompass several different careers. Your salary will vary depending on which specialty you choose, which could include the following:

  • Service coordinator: $16.54 per hour
  • Laboratory technician: $18.80 per hour
  • Examiner: $58,607 per year

How to become a forensic pathologist

A forensic pathologist is a medical doctor with an extensive amount of training and education. You can follow these steps to have a forensic pathologist career.

  1. Earn your bachelor’s degree
  2. Graduate medical school
  3. Become a licensed physician
  4. Complete a residency program
  5. Finish a forensic pathology residency

Obtain board certification

1. Earn your bachelor’s degree

You can choose a bachelor’s degree in any area provided you gain the necessary prerequisites for medical school. It’s best to pursue a degree in medicine or science with coursework focused on chemistry, biology and math. Some schools offer forensic science programs that are uniquely suited to those who want to become forensic pathologists. These degree programs cover topics like criminal evidence, forensic law and crime scene investigation.

2. Graduate medical school

Forensic pathologists must have either a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathy. You need to complete four years of medical school to earn this degree. The first two years are focused primarily on lectures and labs. Take an elective in forensic pathology during this time. The last two years of your doctorate program include clinical rotations. Volunteer for autopsy pathology clinical rotations, as these are the most useful for a forensic pathologist career path.

3. Become a licensed physician

You must become a licensed physician to continue with your training after medical school. The requirements for licensure vary by state but most require that you pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

4. Complete a residency program

Once you’ve obtained licensure, you can complete your four-year anatomic pathology and clinical pathology residency program. Your anatomic pathology studies will cover surgical pathology, gastrointestinal pathology and autopsies. Clinical pathology studies include cytogenetics, hematology and molecular diagnostics. Focus on electives in anatomic pathology when possible, as these are generally more relevant to forensic pathology.

5. Finish a forensic pathology residency

After completing your AP/CP residency program, you must finish another one-year residency focused solely on forensic pathology. This gives you the specialized knowledge you need for this field.

6. Obtain board certification

The previous educational requirements will prepare you for board certification with The American Board of Pathology. You must first complete your AP/CP certification. The AP portion of the exam includes:

  • 55-question microscopic exam and 30-question virtual microscopy examination
  • 115-question written exam

125-question practical exam with images

The clinical pathology exam includes:

  • 120-question practical examination
  • 121-question written exam

124-question practical exam with images

Once you’ve obtained AP/CP board certification you can proceed with your forensic pathology subspecialty exam. This includes:

  • 45-question microscopic exam and 10-question virtual examination
  • 115-question written exam

135-question practical exam with images

To maintain certification, you must earn continuing medical education credits and pass a recertification exam every 10 years.

FAQs about forensic pathologists

Forensic pathologists have a complex yet fascinating career. If you’re interested in exploring this career path, you may have some questions about what’s ahead. Below are answers to some common questions about forensic pathologists.

What qualities do forensic pathologists need?

The forensic pathologist career path requires a specific skill set. To succeed as a forensic pathologist, you must have a great deal of fortitude, patience and determination. You must remain calm and focused under stress. Forensic pathologists also need the confidence to sit on the stand and testify to their findings in front of an audience that may include the media, the victim’s family and those accused of causing the individual’s death.

How long does it take to become a forensic pathologist?

It takes at least 13 years of training and education to become a forensic pathologist.

Do forensic pathologists work alone?

Forensic pathologists don’t work alone. They will typically seek assistance from other professionals in collecting the necessary information. A forensic pathologist may work with law enforcement personnel, toxicologists and other specialists.

How can I become a forensic pathologist with the FBI?

The FBI requires that its forensic examiners complete a two-year training program that qualifies them to work with the FBI. After you’ve become qualified, you must spend two years working in the FBI laboratory.

To train as a consultant forensic pathologist, you’ll need a medical background. Since the practice of forensic pathology is rooted in the science of human tissue, forensic pathologists train in histopathology before specialising later on.

What are the entry requirements?

To enter training as a consultant forensic pathologist, you’ll need to:

  • qualify as a doctor
  • register with the General Medical Council (GMC)
  • complete the UK Foundation Training Programme or equivalent.

You’ll then need to complete basic histopathology training, which covers surgical pathology, autopsy and cytopathology. Once you’ve passed Stage B of histopathology training, you’ll be eligible to specialise further.

How long will it take?

If you’re training full-time, training to be a forensic pathologist takes around five-and-a-half years. The first two to two-and-a-half years are spent doing histopathology, and the last three are spent studying forensic pathology.

There might be opportunities to extend your training, by undertaking research or out-of-programme training.

What will my training cover?

There are four stages of training for forensic pathology: A, B, C and D

In stages A and B you’ll be following the standard histopathology curriculum, gaining experience cutting up specimens, writing reports (including on autopsies) and conducting basic screening. You’ll also benefit from short, practical introductions to all the sub-specialties.

At stage C, the curriculum focuses more on your ability to practice forensic pathology at consultant level. You’ll undertake more complex post-mortem investigations and will need to demonstrate working knowledge of key health and safety regulations, the Coroner’s Rules and the Coroner’s Court and proceedings around death investigation and Fatal Accident Inquiries.

In stage D, you’ll work even more independently. This will include developing your experience providing impartial and medically-supported evidence within the judicial system, showing proficiency in autopsy techniques and recording and retrieving evidence at a death scene.

What exams will I need to take?

To complete your training, you’ll be required to pass the following.

  • Histopathology Stage A examination – this will test your competency and aptitude for further training in the specialty and is normally taken in the first year of Histopathology training.
  • FRCPath Part 1 in Histopathology – this aims to determine whether you have successfully acquired a core body of knowledge that will underpin your ability to practise in Histopathology.
  • FRCPath Part 2 in Forensic Pathology – this exam is designed to test your practical skills and understanding, and show that you can apply your expertise appropriately and safely.

Diploma in Forensic Pathology

The diploma is an alternative route to becoming a consultant forensic pathologist, for those who have completed their histopathology specialty training. Find out more about the diploma and what it involves.

Education and Training: Bachelor’s degree followed by 4 years in medical school to earn an MD, followed by five-year training in anatomic, forensic or clinical pathology, and a one year fellowship in forensics. Board certification can be achieved after passing the final exam.
Average Salary: $105,000-$500,000
Job Outlook: Excellent

Job Description

Forensic pathologists are specially trained doctors who examine the bodies of people who died violently or unexpectedly, or whose cause of death is unknown. A forensic pathologist is ultimately responsible for determining the cause of death.

Although this may initially involve performing an autopsy on the body and examining the medical history of the deceased, the forensic pathologist also has to take into account a number of other sources of information. These can include collecting trace evidence from the body and also performing toxicology screens as well as blood analysis and DNA testing. Depending on the cause of death, it may be necessary to perform firearms or ballistics tests. Once a forensic pathologist or medical examiner has all the information they can prepare a written report, and may also be required to testify in court.

Not all forensic pathologists examine the dead, as clinical forensic pathologists examine living patients, and are usually required in cases where sexual assault or abuse has occurred. This role for forensic pathologists is becoming increasingly important.

Anyone wishing to become a forensic pathologist has to have a natural curiosity about the pathology of the human body, and must also be good at communicating with others, as forensic pathologists are frequently required to work closely with law enforcement agencies. Forensic pathologists need to be able to clearly explain forensic evidence and must be able to defend this evidence in court.

Education and Training Requirements

The education and training to become a forensic pathologist is extremely rigorous and long, and it takes a minimum of 13 years training after high school to qualify and become board certified. Forensic pathologists must first spend four years earning a bachelor’s degree in any major that allows them to go on to medical school. They must then spend a further four years in medical school completing an MD or DO degree. This is followed by four or five years training in forensic pathology, after which it’s necessary to do a one-year residency, or fellowship in forensics pathology. The final step is to take an exam leading to board certification.

Getting the Job

The majority of jobs available are working in hospitals or medical schools, or for the federal government. There are also private group practices that contract autopsy services out to government agencies. Most newly qualified forensic pathologists are likely to find jobs most easily in hospitals or medical schools or other state controlled facilities, which is valuable experience before choosing to work for other organizations such as private group practices.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

Job prospects are excellent for forensic pathologists. The opportunities for career development are extremely good, especially once a pathologist becomes more experienced. The forensic pathologists who are at the top of their career and who are known for their high levels of expertise can command considerable sums of money, and are much in demand for testifying in court.

Working Conditions and Environment

Although working conditions are clean and well ventilated it can still be a grueling job, and a typical workday can last up to 12 hours especially in cases where a death site is a considerable distance from the workplace. The emotional demands of the job can also be quite high as the pathologist can be continually exposed to graphic violence. Much of a pathologist’s time is spent in the laboratory performing autopsies or examining tissue samples, although the most experienced are likely to spend considerable amounts of time in court testifying on behalf of government agencies.

Salary and Benefits

A typical starting salary for a newly qualified forensics pathologist is around $80,000 for anyone choosing to work for a government agency. Private crime laboratories may pay significantly more, but may also require longer and more erratic working hours. The majority of forensic pathologists work a standard 40 hour week and most have evenings and weekends off.

More experienced forensic pathologists can expect salaries of $175,000 upwards, while those at the top of the tree are able to command salaries of as much as $500,000. As most of the jobs available are for government agencies, bonuses are likely to be rare, but vacation allowances are more likely to be generous and paid.

There are several career options in the forensic science field. This industry is a cross between the medical and legal sectors and plays an important role in everything from solving serious crimes to supporting the legal system in the courts. Careers in forensic science vary widely and require education and experience that ranges from a high school diploma to a doctorate. In this article, we define what forensic science is and explore 10 popular forensic science careers as well as their job duties and average salaries.

What is forensic science?

Forensic science is the application of scientific methods and processes in various legal and criminal-related settings. Forensic science is most commonly used in criminal investigations as well as in criminal convictions. The primary focus of forensic science is to uncover physical evidence through recognition, identification, testing and evaluation. Forensic science relies on various forms of science—including chemistry, biology and physics—to analyze and interpret criminal-related data.

Forensic science may be applied to:

  • Collecting evidence from crime scenes
  • Preserving and cataloging specimens to be analyzed
  • Interpreting criminal data
  • Assisting in criminal or civil court cases
  • Determining the cause of a crime
  • Analyzing evidence and using it to formulate hypotheses regarding a crime

10 common forensic science jobs

The following are 10 common jobs you can pursue within the forensic science field:

1. Fingerprint analyst

National average salary: $13.76 per hour

Primary duties: These professionals study and evaluate fingerprints in criminal investigations. They work in a crime lab as well as at active crime scenes. Fingerprint analysts process and preserve fingerprint samples, analyze fingerprints and load fingerprint images into fingerprint databases for comparison.

Requirements: A Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science or a related field is typically required.

2. Evidence technician

National average salary: $18.75 per hour

Primary duties: Evidence technicians are responsible for collecting evidence at crime scenes, processing the evidence and transporting the evidence to storage locations.

Requirements: Most evidence technician jobs require a degree in criminal justice or a related field. Some positions may allow individuals to hold an entry-level evidence technician job with previous experience and on-the-job training.

3. Forensic science technician

National average salary: $18.79 per hour

Primary duties**:** Forensic science technicians work at crime scene investigations and are responsible for gathering and analyzing evidence. They may take photos and keep written records of crime scene evidence. These professionals most commonly work for crime labs, police departments and medical examiner offices.

Requirements: A minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science is typically required for this position.

4. Forensic specialist

National average salary: $44,356 per year

Primary duties: Forensic specialists assess physical evidence from a crime scene using various methods of analysis, including chemical, instrumental and microscopic methods. They may work with biological fluids, drugs, blood, gunshot residue and other materials found at a crime scene. They may serve as expert witnesses in court cases and conduct research related to new forensic equipment and technology.

Requirements: A minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science, Chemistry, Biology or a related field is required. Several years of experience working in a forensic science lab is often needed as well to obtain a job as a forensic specialist.

5. Forensics manager

National average salary: $66,797 per year

Primary duties: A forensics manager is a professional who oversees the activities that support criminal investigations. They may plan, direct and coordinate various activities related to forensic science within a crime lab or other forensics organization.

Requirements: A minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science or a related field is required.

6. Forensic investigator

National average salary: $72,325 per year

Primary duties: Forensic investigators are responsible for investigating evidence found at a crime scene. They may take photos of the crime scene, collect samples and examine evidence in a lab. They then use the evidence to make assumptions regarding the details of the crime.

Requirements: This position requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, Forensic Science or a related field.

7. Forensic accountant

National average salary: $80,046 per year

Primary duties: Forensic accountants are experts in financial crime and work to uncover fraud and protect bank accounts against fraudulent activity. They examine financial records and accounts that may be used as evidence. They may also assist in court to determine damages and awards for cases.

Requirements: A minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance, Accounting or a related field is required.

8. Forensic engineer

National average salary: $86,083 per year

Primary duties: These professionals are tasked with investigating structures that have failed or do not function properly. They commonly analyze structures that have resulted in personal injury or property damage and determine the cause. Forensic engineers may use their findings in criminal and civil law cases to support the evidence presented.

Requirements: A minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering is required to become a forensic engineer.

9. Forensic psychologist

National average salary: $86,959 per year

Primary duties: Forensic psychologists perform several duties within the legal system, including performing psychological assessments of criminals, witnesses and defendants in legal proceedings and acting as expert witnesses in court cases. They may also devise treatment plans and intervention methods for prison inmates and make recommendations for inmates’ parole. These professionals typically work for community health centers, psychiatric hospitals, government agencies and correctional facilities.

Requirements: Forensic psychologists must hold a minimum of a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology. Many of these professionals also hold certification from the American Board of Forensic Psychology.

10. Forensic pathologist

National average salary: $111,926 per year

Primary duties: These professionals are responsible for conducting autopsies on bodies to determine the cause of death. They may assist in the investigation of crimes like murders and evaluate the findings of autopsies.

Requirements: A forensic pathologist must complete a medical school program as well as three to five years of residency training in general pathology.

Find The Best Forensic Pathologist Jobs For You

Where do you want to work?

Working as a Forensic Pathologist

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to being a forensic pathologist. For example, did you know that they make an average of $40.84 an hour? That’s $84,947 a year!

What Does a Forensic Pathologist Do

There are certain skills that many forensic pathologists have in order to accomplish their responsibilities. By taking a look through resumes, we were able to narrow down the most common skills for a person in this position. We discovered that a lot of resumes listed technical skills, detail oriented and physical stamina.

When it comes to searching for a job, many search for a key term or phrase. Instead, it might be more helpful to search by industry, as you might be missing jobs that you never thought about in industries that you didn’t even think offered positions related to the forensic pathologist job title. But what industry to start with? Most forensic pathologists actually find jobs in the health care and construction industries.

How To Become a Forensic Pathologist

If you’re interested in becoming a forensic pathologist, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. We’ve determined that 57.1% of forensic pathologists have a bachelor’s degree. In terms of higher education levels, we found that 14.3% of forensic pathologists have master’s degrees. Even though most forensic pathologists have a college degree, it’s impossible to become one with only a high school degree or GED.

Choosing the right major is always an important step when researching how to become a forensic pathologist. When we researched the most common majors for a forensic pathologist, we found that they most commonly earn bachelor’s degree degrees or doctoral degree degrees. Other degrees that we often see on forensic pathologist resumes include master’s degree degrees or None degrees.

You may find that experience in other jobs will help you become a forensic pathologist. In fact, many forensic pathologist jobs require experience in a role such as medical examiner. Meanwhile, many forensic pathologists also have previous career experience in roles such as fellow or internship.

What is the right job for my career path?

Tell us your goals and we’ll match you with the right jobs to get there.

Find The Best Forensic Pathologist Jobs For You

Where do you want to work?

Working as a Forensic Pathologist

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to being a forensic pathologist. For example, did you know that they make an average of $40.84 an hour? That’s $84,947 a year!

What Does a Forensic Pathologist Do

There are certain skills that many forensic pathologists have in order to accomplish their responsibilities. By taking a look through resumes, we were able to narrow down the most common skills for a person in this position. We discovered that a lot of resumes listed technical skills, detail oriented and physical stamina.

When it comes to searching for a job, many search for a key term or phrase. Instead, it might be more helpful to search by industry, as you might be missing jobs that you never thought about in industries that you didn’t even think offered positions related to the forensic pathologist job title. But what industry to start with? Most forensic pathologists actually find jobs in the health care and construction industries.

How To Become a Forensic Pathologist

If you’re interested in becoming a forensic pathologist, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. We’ve determined that 57.1% of forensic pathologists have a bachelor’s degree. In terms of higher education levels, we found that 14.3% of forensic pathologists have master’s degrees. Even though most forensic pathologists have a college degree, it’s impossible to become one with only a high school degree or GED.

Choosing the right major is always an important step when researching how to become a forensic pathologist. When we researched the most common majors for a forensic pathologist, we found that they most commonly earn bachelor’s degree degrees or doctoral degree degrees. Other degrees that we often see on forensic pathologist resumes include master’s degree degrees or None degrees.

You may find that experience in other jobs will help you become a forensic pathologist. In fact, many forensic pathologist jobs require experience in a role such as medical examiner. Meanwhile, many forensic pathologists also have previous career experience in roles such as fellow or internship.

What is the right job for my career path?

Tell us your goals and we’ll match you with the right jobs to get there.

Forensic pathologists, or medical examiners, are specially trained physicians who examine the bodies of people who died suddenly, unexpectedly, or violently.

Summary

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.

Educational Requirements

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.

Median Salary 2018

According to the forensicscolleges.com, the salary of a Forensic Pathologist in 2018 was highly variable. The bottom 10% of earners made less than $74,000, the median salary was $193,936, and the top 10% of earners made more than $310,000. This variance is due in part to education level, employer location, and experience.

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Internships

Websites for some of the state and federal programs include:

*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.