Forensic Pathology Majors: Salary and Career Facts

Lean how majoring in forensic pathology develops skills used in criminal investigations to identify cause of death. Read on to learn about careers in forensic pathology, education requirements and specializations in the field as well as employment and salary outlook. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Forensic Pathologist Do?

Forensic pathologists are the professionals who investigate the causes and circumstances surrounding an individual's unexpected death. Also known as a medical examiner, the forensic pathologist is typically a certified healthcare professional in the field of pathology who utilizes medical knowledge and tools during investigations.

Forensic pathologists collect and analyze DNA, fibers and other evidence from the deceased In addition, they will consider patient medical histories, bodily injuries, statements from potential witnesses and information obtained from autopsies in drawing scientifically sound conclusions. Conducting the autopsies themselves may comprise a significant portion of the forensic pathologist's duties as well.

The work of forensic pathologists is often of extreme benefit in criminal or other legal cases, especially murder cases. It should be noted that some clinical forensic pathologist also work with living crime victims, mostly in cases involving alleged sexual or physical assault.

The following chart provides an overview of what you may expect out of a career in forensic pathology.

Forensic Pathologist Forensic Scientist
Degree Required Doctor of medicine Bachelor's for entry-level positions, master's preferred
Education Field of Study Pathology, forensic pathology Advanced sciences, forensic science, forensic pathology
Training Required Residency, internship at a coroner's office or in a medical examiner's department Advanced coursework in forensics, environmental science, pharmaceutical sciences
Job Growth (2014 - 24) 15%* 27%*
Average Salary (2016) $98,709** $51,027**

Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale

What is Forensic Pathology?

In forensic pathology, you will work with law enforcement to determine a cause of death based on tissue samples and study of the body. In most circumstances, you'll be to tell if a death was caused by an accident, negligence, homicide, natural causes or other means through forensic testing. As a forensic pathologist, you will work closely with law enforcement, visit crime scenes and provide courtroom testimony. As a forensic pathology scientist, you'll perform a variety of laboratory tests to determine a cause of death. Forensic scientists often specialize in areas such as toxicology, odontology or digital forensics.

What Education Will I Need to Become a Forensic Pathologist?

You'll begin by earning a medical degree, which will require attending medical school and performing residencies in pathology and forensic pathology. In many cases, you'll also have to perform an internship at a coroner's office or in a medical examiner's department as part of your training. Throughout medical school and residency programs, you will gain clinical knowledge in pathology, cell biology, medical science, biomedical research, epidemiology, toxicology and systemic pathology. During your internship, you'll learn firsthand how death investigations work and gain knowledge in giving courtroom testimony, preparing official reports and conducting autopsies.

What Education Will I Need to Become a Forensic Scientist?

First, you'll need to obtain a bachelor's degree in a science area and take advanced coursework in biology, chemistry and math. Next, you'll take a master's degree program in forensic science or forensic pathology. Coursework is a combination of classes and research, which culminates in a thesis in many programs. Classes usually include:

  • Forensic toxicology
  • Forensic anthropology
  • Forensic entomology
  • Pharmaceutical toxicology
  • Environmental forensics

What is the Career Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicians specializing in forensic pathology will see an employment increase of 15% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Those willing to work in rural areas would find more employment opportunities than those in urban locations. Employment opportunities in the field ares expected to rise as the need increases for scientists and technologists trained in new forensic technologies, such as DNA analysis and digital forensics.

What Salary Can I Expect to Earn?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have unique data for forensic pathologists. However, according to the BLS, the average salary for all physicians in the category of 'other' in 2015 was $197,700, with those who worked in diagnostic laboratories earning a mean annual wage of $247,910. The predicted job growth rate for all physicians is 14%.

In 2015, the BLS reported that the average annual wage for forensic science technicians was $56,320. Forensic scientists and technologists can expect a competitive job market with a predicted job growth rate of 27% for the next decade.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Since forensic pathologists are licensed physicians, qualified individuals could consider an alternative healthcare specialty. Many subfields are available for doctors who want to specialize, including fields that work with specific populations (such as pediatrics) and fields where a specific system of the body is emphasized (such as cardiology). A traditional pathology specialization would enable the individual to engage in extensive laboratory work while studying the mechanisms of various diseases and conditions.

Medical scientists, epidemiologists and biochemists are also heavily involved in the analytical and investigative aspects of medicine. For those individuals interested in studying crimes but not necessarily in the medical arena, careers in law or law enforcement might be good options.

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