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How to Become a Forensic Pathologist

When someone passes away, it’s important to find out why it happened. Death may come from severe injury or an attack from an unknown assailant. There are several possibilities to look into when it comes to death, which is why it takes the work of an expert forensic pathologist to figure things out.

It’s not easy becoming a forensic pathologist. The road to working in this field requires years of education, study, and training. However, once you qualify for the position, there is a lifelong and fulfilling healthcare career out there for you.

If this sounds like a career path you’d like to explore, below is our guide on how to become a forensic pathologist in 2020.

What Is a Forensic Pathologist?

A forensic pathologist, commonly known as a death detective or medical examiner, is a specialist in pathology who focuses on examining people who die unexpectedly, suddenly, or violently. These professionals are experts when it comes to determining the cause of death of an individual.

To become a forensic pathologist, you must undergo special training. Working in this field means learning how to perform autopsies, evaluating legal and historical information that relates to the person’s cause of death, collecting medical evidence, and discovering how a person received an injury.

A forensic pathologist must use all of their skills to evaluate every aspect of a person’s death and how it came to be.

What Does a Forensic Pathologist Do?

A forensic pathologist’s main responsibility is to determine the cause and manner of a person’s death. To determine this, the pathologist must study the person’s medical history, evaluate crime scene evidence, perform an autopsy, and collect medical evidence from the body.

There are situations where clinical forensic pathologists work with living patients. This is usually during cases involving abuse or sexual assault. Once a forensic pathologist completes their examination, they complete a written report and testify in court.

Essential Forensic Pathologist Skills

Strong Analytical Skills

Forensic pathologists must evaluate all aspects of crime and piece together all the evidence to come to the right conclusion. Strong analytical skills are necessary to come to the right conclusion. From evaluating the entry and exit point of bullet wounds to evaluating the health history of a patient, everything needs close examination.

Attention to Detail

Strong attention to detail is also necessary for this position. Evidence is not always readily available or easy to discover. When working as a forensic pathologist, you must examine a body in autopsy for several hours to find even the most subtle of clues and evidence. Every piece of evidence matters in a case, and a pathologist’s job is to get all the information necessary for the right conclusion.

Communication Skills

Being a forensic pathologist involves more than just examining bodies and gathering evidence. A significant portion of a pathologist’s work requires them to write reports and testify in court. The report and testimonies mean that a pathologist must have strong communication skills. There are several times when you must report your findings and the conclusions that come with them.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

When a forensic pathologist has a case, it requires a great deal of thinking, planning, and problem-solving. Working in this field means that you are constantly working in a high-stress environment where you’ll identify a complex issue and evaluate the problem properly and come up with the right solution.

How Much Does a Forensic Pathologist Make?

According to, the average forensic pathologist’s salary is $103,694. This salary varies based on your location, experience, education, and additional skills.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a job outlook for forensic pathologists specifically, there are numbers for similar positions to give some insight on the growth of the field. For example, the job outlook for forensic science technicians is 14 percent, which is much faster than the average position.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Forensic Pathologist?

It takes 11 to 13 years to become a forensic pathologist. This includes the four years it takes to earn your bachelor’s degree. Afterward, you’ll spend four years in graduate medical school.

Once you graduate from medical school, you’ll participate in a four-year residency program. Finally, you’ll take another residency for one-year, which focuses solely on forensic pathology.

Keep in mind that there are situations where it may take less time if you participate in an accelerated program.

How to Become a Forensic Pathologist: A Step by Step Guide

Anyone can become a forensic pathologist. The most important thing to note is that it takes several years to work in this field, but as long as you stick to the right path, you’ll find success.

Step1: Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a forensic pathologist is to earn your bachelor’s degree. You can choose any degree you wish, as long as it meets the requirements for medical school. If you want to work in forensic pathology, it’s best to major in something that closely relates to science or medicine. Consider degree programs in biology, chemistry, or forensics.

Step 2: Complete Graduate School

After you earn your undergraduate degree, the next step is to earn your doctor of osteopathy or doctor of medicine. This requires completing four years of graduate medical school and acquiring your medical degree. Also, volunteer for autopsy pathology clinical rotations to help with your career path.

Step 3: Earn Your License

Once you complete your education, the next step is to earn your license. The way you earn your licensure varies depending on your state. In most cases, you must pass the US Medical Licensing Exam.

Step 4: Complete Two Residency Programs

The next step after earning your license is to complete your pathology residency programs. The first residency program is in anatomic pathology and clinical pathology, which is four years long. The final residency program has a sole focus on forensic pathology. This gives you the knowledge for your specialized field.

Step 5: Become Board Certified in Pathology

Finally, after completing your residency, you must earn your board certification from the American Board of Pathology. Board certification requires you to take part in multiple exams, which include the CP exam, the clinical pathology exam, and the forensic pathology subspecialty exam.

After you earn your certification, you must continue your education by earning medical education credits. There is also a requirement to take and pass your recertification exam every 10 years.

Should You Become a Forensic Pathologist in 2020?

It’s not easy becoming a forensic pathologist. It takes several years of study and education to become one. It is a complex position that involves a lot of dirty work, but the rewards are incredible.

Not only is it a lifelong career path, but it also allows you to potentially put people to justice and help with families coming to an understanding of why someone unexpectedly passes away.

It’s not easy becoming a forensic pathologist, but if you have a certain knack for problem-solving and love and curiosity for forensics, then this is the career path for you.

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