Forensic Pathologist Career Facts

Forensic pathologists study medical conditions related to criminal investigations and coroner investigations. This is an advanced form of basic pathology, and involves high standards of clinical pathology and analysis.

The work environment

The work environment of forensic pathology is primarily lab work, based on the requirements of case studies. It's also closely linked to police investigations and the legal requirements of evidence analysis.

This is particularly demanding work. Testing often involves multi disciplinary forms of examination including medical, chemical, imaging, microscopic, biological, botanical and other studies. 

Basic testing procedures include:

  • Systematic gathering of information.
  • Preservation of samples in an uncontaminated form, admissible as evidence to a court.
  • DNA testing.
  • Examination of materials and articles related to cases.
  • Detailed recording of items under examination and related findings in a statutory format.
  • Formulation of a report detailing all findings and providing specific information requested by the investigating authority or court. 

The investigation may require intensive work on the site of the incident under investigation. Crime scenes can be messy places, and forensic pathologists may need to visit them simply to identify factors on the site which may impact their specimens and evidence.

A detailed investigation may involve literally hundreds of items of evidence, specimens, and in some cases information from other sites provided by law enforcement agencies. The processes listed above need to be carried out on all elements of the investigation.  

The quality of forensic evidence is very important to police investigations. Courts require a very high standard of evidence, created by statute. Information which is found to involve faulty data, contaminated samples, or other defects in either quality or standards of data may be inadmissible as evidence, or ineffectual. 

The legal environment is another area of the forensic pathologist's work environment. Many pathologists are require to testify to explain the nature of their findings. The proof of innocence or guilt may rest on the forensic information provided to the court.  That means forensic pathologists are often subjected to the full force of the adversarial legal system, and required to defend their findings against intensive questioning from defense attorneys. They may also have to contend with professional level disputes regarding analyses of their information by forensic pathologists hired by the defense. 

The career environment

Forensic pathology is one of the most demanding areas of clinical pathology. Forensic pathologists in all fields are in a league of their own in a unique area of pathology. Career progression in this field is based largely on qualifications, research, and reputation.

Qualifications: Forensic pathology is also an area of very high specialization in various fields like genetic testing, biology, medicine, and other sciences commonly involved in forensic investigations. This produces some interesting hybrid qualifications and skills, like a biologist who specializes in forensic procedures. 

Research: This is a natural field for forensic pathologists. Investigation often requires creating methods of research to produce the verifiable findings required by courts and coroners. 

Reputation: Some forensic pathologists are leaders in their fields. They are called in to deal with difficult cases, and to give expert testimony regarding the issues involved in forensic data before the court.