How to Become a Forensic Pathologist

In order to become a forensic pathologist, you will required to have advanced specialist training related to one of the streams of forensic pathology. This is a field for real experts. The forms of pathology involved are usually concerned with criminal procedures and often involve very difficult analyses, frequently dealing with attempts to destroy evidence. In some cases forensic pathologists are employed to deal with unexplained deaths.

Education and Training

Forensic pathology in practice is an aggregation of different forms of analytical sciences.  At entry level, forensic pathologists usually start in the traditional areas of pathology which are biology, medicine and chemistry. The following qualifications are also required:

  1. A Bachelors Degree in an appropriate pre-medical course.
  2. A Medical Degree (MD)
  3. A 4 year residency (minimum) in anatomic pathology, or a 5 year residency in combined clinical pathology and anatomic pathology.
  1. Licensing: In addition to the requirements for medical qualifications, state laws require forensic pathologists to be licensed after completion of their residencies. To be licensed, candidates must successfully pass a written examination.

The Primary Elements

The primary elements of practical forensic pathology are based on a very wide range of areas of study, which gives a good indication of the complexity of the science involved. Many senior forensic science positions are doctorate positions, with additional qualifications derived from work as a graduate or undergraduate in particular areas of forensic study. These are the main fields of specialization in forensic pathology.

  • Gynecologic
  • Urologic
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Dermatological
  • Neurological
  • Cardiovascular
  • Pulmonary
  • Electron microscopy

Legal Aspects of Forensic Pathology

Forensic pathology also contains a strong component of what's called medico-legal pathology, because of the nature of the work. The legal requirements for these reports are extensive. In these cases forensic pathologists are both providers of information and witnesses. They may have to answer questions from legal counsel regarding their findings, and in some cases explain the basis of their tests and deal with aspects of their findings. Forensic pathologists may also act as advisers to legal counsel in terms of framing questions for other pathologists providing evidence. Forensic pathologists provide reports for:

  • Coroners
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Courts
  • Legal representatives
  • Government agencies in cases where forensic evaluation is required like terrorist acts, deaths through toxic materials, or other statutorily related areas. 

Another area of the forensic pathologists' job is acting as an adviser to agencies which commission them. The forensic pathologist provides support for investigations, and may act as an "interpreter" of forensic evidence in terms of evaluating information. For example, a particular chemical may be found in a toxicology test. The forensic pathologist can describe its effects, and the law enforcement agency can develop its investigation on the basis of that information.

Skills and Motivation

Forensic pathologists are typically highly motivated people, working in areas of medicine and science which are preferred career tracks. This area of practice provides them with career challenges and in many cases supports their further career development. Forensic pathology requires particular personal skills as well as professional expertise:

  • Communication skills: Essential for dealing with difficult technical science and explaining complex issues.
  • Interpersonal skills: Forensic pathologists work in a high pressure environment, requiring good teamwork and relationships.