The word forensic is an adjective relating to denoting the application of scientific methods and techniques to the investigation of crime. The word pathologist is a noun that refers to a scientist who studies the causes and effects of diseases, especially one who examines laboratory samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes. When you combine these two words, you get the term forensic pathologists; licensed physicians specially trained to focus on determining the cause or causes of death pertaining to a corpse. This is especially important when someone dies suddenly, violently, or unexpectedly.
If the above description is appealing to you, you may already be considering forensic pathology as a career path. To help you decide if this is the right path for you, this article will fill you in on the job description, tasks, salary, and educational requirements of a forensic pathologist, plus much more. We hope to provide you with a clear vision of what it takes to get into the field of forensic pathology and what you can expect once you get there.
Job Description Of A Forensic Pathologist
Forensic pathologists are both doctors and detectives. They work directly with corpses and other law enforcement professionals to establish how a death was caused and when, especially concerning cases of murder, suicide or anything else that appears suspicious. They collect evidence such as blood, other bodily fluids, body tissue and any other trace evidence at a crime scene to study in a laboratory setting.
Forensic pathologists will often collect crime scene witnesses to back up their medical findings. Another important thing they do is examine deceased bodies, viewing every single inch of the body looking for things like bruising, scraping, gashes, signs of injury by a weapon, and more.
There are different focuses in forensic pathology. One focus centers on examining clothing, skin, fingernails, and toenails. Concerning the internal examination, they focus on blood, stomach contents, bile, urine, and all organs. Pathologists need to review all medical records of the deceased to rule out certain causes of death.
After completing the examination of the corpse and collecting all information, a forensic pathologist will usually collaborate with coroners and law enforcement officials to decide on a cause of death. Becoming a forensic pathologist requires approximately 12 or more years of education and training.
The job description includes the use of both doctor and detective skills. Below are common, everyday tasks being a forensic pathologist entails:
Education And Training
Becoming a forensic pathologist is no easy task. It requires a lot of schooling, training, and practice. You can expect around 12 to 13 years of preparing to be a forensic pathologist after high school. Below is a chronological breakdown of how that time is spent.
- 1Complete high school or get a GED—typically four years.
- 2Complete an undergraduate degree; some common choices are getting a Bachelor’s degree in pre-med, biology, and microbiology. Getting a Bachelor’s degree takes about four years but can take more or less time depending on the number of classes taken per semester.
- 3Complete medical school; it is recommended that you take electives related to forensic pathology, such as autopsy pathology, during these years. At this stage, you can either get what’s known as a DO (doctor of osteopathy) or what’s known as an MD (medical doctor). This usually takes four years but is also contingent upon classes taken per semester.
- 4Earn a medical license; after completing medical school you are required to complete board exams. The time to complete this step can vary based on how much time is needed to study and when exams are offered.
- 5Get a pathology residency; after getting a medical license, it is necessary to train in a specialized residency program for the purposes of learning the specifics of pathology and for gaining experience as a physician. Most applicants complete this step in approximately 3-4 years.
- 6Enroll in a forensic pathology fellowship; after completing a residency, a fellowship is important because it provides invaluable knowledge and experience in forensic pathology. Fellowships usually last for about a year.
- 7Board certification by The American Board of Pathology is required after residency. The timing varies based on when it is offered and when you choose to take it.
What Jobs Are Available To A Forensic Pathologist?
Forensic pathologists can be found in a variety of jobs once they finish school and training. For example:
Forensic pathology is considered a specialty field, however, there are subspecialties that exist, such as molecular pathology technologists. Forensic pathologists can also be specially trained in areas such as toxicology, trace evidence, firearms and ballistics, DNA analysis, and serology.
Other Careers That Participate In The Field
Twelve or more years of school and training is not for everyone. With that being said, there are other jobs you can get that work in the field with forensic pathologists, but require less of a time commitment:
• Forensic autopsy technicians do not need an advanced degree and get to assist with autopsies
• Forensic nurses can take part in autopsies and investigations upon passing the NCLEX and earn a nursing license
The work hours of a forensic pathologist are typically your standard 40-hour weeks. It’s possible to run a few hours over 40, but it’s rare to work over 50 hours. Unlike most other types of doctors, it’s considered normal to have evenings and weekends off. Longer days usually occur when there is travel to and from crime scenes.
Working with dead bodies may put forensic pathologists at risk for coming into contact with infectious diseases. This can sound frightening, but there are safety procedures in place for protection. Things like masks and gloves should always be readily available.
Most days are spent in laboratories within a morgue doing things like conducting autopsies and examining biological specimens. Doing these things typically require standing on your feet for long periods of time.
Forensic pathologists may also spend time at crime scenes collecting blood, bodily fluid, and tissue samples or collaborating with other law enforcement officials to gather and share evidence. Finally, you might also find them in an office area, preparing reports and working on documentation.
The salary of a forensic pathologist can vary depending on location, experience, and possession or lack of a specialization. Salary can range from approximately $80,000 annually, all the way up to about $300,000, with the average salary being around $200,000 per year.
There is a shortage of forensic pathologists in the United States, making the job outlook a positive one. The lack of workers can delay the autopsy process throughout the country, which puts forensic pathologists in high demand. According to The National Association of Medical Examiners, there are approximately 500,000 deaths per year who are referred to medical examiners or coroners, but half as many forensic pathologists. As long as people are dying, there will continually be jobs available.
Being a forensic pathologist takes about eight years of intense schooling and an additional 4-5 years of intensive training. If you are somebody who is interested in going to school for longer than the average person and are good in the areas of medicines and sciences, this may be a good career choice for you. If you are interested in this field but aren’t ready for the intense training requirements, there are more options to choose from where you could still participate in the field without the massive commitment of time.
Working a job like this has both pros and cons like any other job. You will usually make a great salary while working standard hours, often having evenings and weekends off. Many would consider this an exciting job where you will encounter new situations all the time. On the other hand, it involves a lot of work, stress management, and the risk of exposure to infectious diseases.
We hope we have managed to adequately address any questions you may have had about working in the field of forensic pathology. Whether this article has helped you decide this is the career path for you or to go in another direction, we wish you the best of luck in your future career endeavors.