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What does a Forensic Pathologist do?

Sudden, unexplained, or suspicious deaths are usually subject to a criminal investigation. Forensic pathologists play an important role in that investigation by helping to explain how and why a person has died.

forensic pathologist

What are the typical responsibilities of a forensic pathologist?

A forensic pathologist is responsible for determining the cause of death when a person dies in suspicious or unusual circumstances. They perform an autopsy or post mortem examination and produce a report that contains details about what has caused the person’s death plus conclusions about the circumstances that have lead to their death based on the interpretation of his or her findings.

A forensic pathologist’s job typically involves some or all of the following:

  • Conducting a full anatomical examination of a body after death
  • Documenting all findings of the examination
  • Highlighting any injuries or diseases that could have resulted in the person’s death
  • Recording the professionals’ opinions about how the identified injuries or diseases have occurred
  • Determining the manner of death: accidental, homicide, natural causes, suicide, or undetermined
  • Determining the identity of the deceased
  • Collecting or photographing evidence such as injuries, bodily tissues or fluids, and fibers or other materials that could be used to determine the circumstances of the person’s death and that may be required as part of a legal investigation
  • Testifying or acting as a witness in a court of law, where the forensic pathologist may be required to explain evidence or findings to non-medical personnel and defend his or her conclusions

In this career, you may often work closely with colleagues in other areas of forensics such as medicine, dentistry, toxicology, and entomology to help them to carry out a thorough examination and draw fully informed conclusions. You are also likely to work closely with legal and criminal investigation personnel, and need to have a detailed understanding of legal processes.

What qualifications do forensic pathologists need?

Forensic pathologists are medically trained professionals (M.D.s) who have completed several years’ training after graduating from medical school. Their additional training takes the form of a residency in anatomical pathology or a combined anatomical and clinical pathology residency plus a fellowship in forensic pathology. This can take a total of up to 16 years: 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of med school, and between 3 and 8 years of internship and residency.

Forensic pathologists are usually employed by Federal, State or local government.

Salaries for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of any occupation in the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This indicates the level of financial reward for those who have committed the necessary time and energy to such an intriguing and multi-faceted career.

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