How to Become a Forensic Pathologist
Forensic Pathologist Careers & Degrees

Forensic Pathologists, also known as Medical Examiners, are experts who determine the cause of death for individuals who have died suddenly, unexpectedly or in a violent manner.

Forensic Pathologists work on bodies whose deaths are suspected to have been caused by an accident, a homicide, a suicide or are unknown.

Bodies dying from any of these suspected causes must be investigated and an autopsy performed in order to determine the exact cause of death.

Individuals who want to know how to become a Forensic Pathologist, can take a glimpse into the day of this profession by simply watching television.

A well-known Medical Examiner or Forensic Pathologist is Dr.

Jan Garavaglia who appears on the reality television show, “Dr.

G: Medical Examiner,” on the TLC and Discovery Fit & Health networks.

The reality television chronicles Dr.

Garavaglia’s cases and guides the viewer on the steps her team makes to complete autopsies for any unexplained deaths.

Education Requirements to Become a Forensic Pathologist

Individuals who want to become a Forensic Pathologist not only have to have a tolerance for smells, bodily fluids and dead bodies, they also have to have several years of study and training in order to enter this field.

You may be interested in knowing how to become a Forensic Pathologist if you are an individual who is highly interested in the sciences, math and biology.

Individuals may begin in this profession by taking math and science courses before completing their high school careers.

Individuals may then continue to their college careers by completing any major and taking course requirements for medical school.

Individuals must earn a bachelor’s degree and fulfill medical school requirements before applying and completing four years of medical school to earn a degree as an M.D.

(Medical Doctor) or D.O.

(Doctor of Osteopathic).

After earning a degree as an M.D.

or D.O., the next step is for individuals to complete 4 to 5 years of training in either of the following areas: anatomic pathology, clinical pathology and/or forensic pathology.

Individuals must then complete one year in a residency or fellowship in the forensic pathology field.

After studying and passing a strenuous exam, the last step to becoming a Forensic Pathologist is for an individual to become board certified and begin the job search process.

Forensic Pathologist Job Description

Forensic Pathologists are first assigned cases by the party seeking a cause of death.

An autopsy may be sought by a local, county or federal government or a privately owned practice, depending on the agency that this professional works for.

Forensic Pathologists then proceed by gathering samples off of the individual’s body, examining by eye or under a microscope and sending samples to get processed in a lab.

Examinations may be thorough with some bodies requiring an internal examination of organs and sometimes the brain as well as samples of blood and other bodily fluids.

Samples of tissues can then be looked at under a microscope, or bodily fluids sent to a lab for a toxicology report.

If the cause of death is unknown, a thorough examination of samples and fluids is required in order to determine the exact cause of death.

Forensic Pathologists may also gather evidence found at the scene in order to come to a conclusion regarding an individual’s death.

Such examples can be of drugs or tools found at the scene if the death of an individual seems suspicious and points to criminal activity.

In some cases where a death is suspected to have been caused by criminal activity, a Forensic Pathologists will work with law enforcement and other individuals to report their findings.

In addition to taking samples from dead bodies and examining them, Forensic Pathologists will also take the time to write reports of their findings and a final conclusion of an individual’s death.

The finding can sometimes be used for legal means when the death was found to be caused by a homicide.

Forensic Pathologists may also provide testimony during a murder trial.

Forensic Pathologist Salary and Career Path

Forensic Pathologists may be hired by city, county or federal governments, while others may work for private institutions such as hospitals, medical schools or private practices.

Salaries will depend on the type of agency a professional works for as well as experience and location.

In 2012, the median income for Forensic Pathologists was $187,000 annually.

Job prospects for this profession looks hopeful and expected to increase by 24 percent through 2022.

For those looking to launch their careers as a Forensic Pathologist, they can expect to use their knowledge and skills to determine the cause of death for deceased individuals.

This career is not for the faint of heart, but for individuals who can handle working with the deceased, becoming a Forensic Pathologist may be a natural course to take.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$63,170
$35K
$45K
$63K
$77K
$97K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$48,630
Alaska$72,380
Arizona$61,820
Arkansas$43,470
California$87,200
Colorado$66,560
Connecticut$68,960
Florida$54,490
Georgia$49,990
Hawaii$56,500
Illinois$82,130
Indiana$61,210
Kansas$50,460
Kentucky$49,040
Louisiana$48,950
Maine$57,830
Maryland$68,880
Massachusetts$76,950
Michigan$65,170
Minnesota$62,760
Mississippi$50,180
Missouri$52,190
Montana$64,580
Nebraska$53,960
Nevada$64,070
New Hampshire$68,530
New Jersey$61,640
New Mexico$43,370
New York$68,000
North Carolina$48,150
Ohio$68,910
Oklahoma$55,880
Oregon$67,360
Pennsylvania$51,660
South Carolina$43,530
South Dakota$39,070
Tennessee$52,270
Texas$60,040
Virginia$69,260
Washington$64,690
West Virginia$46,860
Wisconsin$55,120
Wyoming$55,300

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $87,200.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $87,200
Illinois - $82,130
Massachusetts - $76,950
Alaska - $72,380
Virginia - $69,260
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Forensic Science Technicians, OCC Code 19-4092, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does a forensic pathologist do?

Forensic pathologists investigate sudden and unexpected deaths.

They perform autopsies and interpret laboratory tests to determine how a person died and to solve cases.

Autopsies also help pathologists discover how a disease has progressed and to help family members prevent illness and to aid medical researchers in developing treatments for that disease.

Forensic pathologists work mostly in laboratories but they may also visit the scene of death to gather information about how the death occurred.

During an investigation, forensic pathologists work with forensic assistants, toxicologists, pharmacologists, and other experts but also with police and other authorities who are responsible for investigating the cause of unexpected deaths.

As a forensic pathologist, you will need a special set of skills, including dexterity, curiosity, physical stamina, and analytical thinking.

Because this job can be very stressful, forensic pathologists should be able to keep their work separate from their personal lives.

Most pathologists work long hours and they may be needed outside of normal business hours to work on cases.

QuestionHow much does a forensic pathologist make?

Salaries in this field vary widely based on the pathologist’s expertise, level of experience, the employer and the level of government spending.

Some forensic pathologists earn less than $100,000 a year while others make more than $300,000.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a forensic pathologist?

Forensic pathologists need a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree.

A bachelor’s degree program can cost you anywhere between less than $5,000 and more than $30,000 a year, depending on the school you choose and the program itself.

Four years of medical school will cost somewhere around $200,000 at a public school and more than $270,000 at a private school.

After earning your medical degree, the next step is to complete a four-year residency.

To be able to practice as a forensic pathologist, you will also need a state license and a credential from the American Board of Pathology.

QuestionWhat is the demand for forensic pathologists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of forensic science technicians, in general, is expected to grow 14 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

This growth is explained, in part, by the fact that scientific advances increase the reliability of objective forensic information.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a forensic pathologist?

Forensic pathologists need at least 12 years of training beyond high school.

They first must complete four years of undergraduate studies followed by four years of medical school.

After earning a Doctor of Medicine degree, the next step is to complete a four-year residency.

To be able to practice, forensic pathologists need a state license and they must be certified by the American Board of Pathology.

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