What Does a Forensic Pathologist Do?

Forensic pathologists are licensed medical doctors who investigate sudden, violent, and unexpected deaths by performing autopsies and completing death investigations. Forensic pathologists uncover the identities of patients and the time, manner, and instrument of their deaths. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Forensic pathologists conduct autopsies and assist in death investigations. They are medical doctors, holding either an allopathic medical degree (M.D.) or a doctorate of osteopathic medicine (D.O.). Practicing forensic pathologists must hold state licensure, and the American Board of Pathology (www.abpath.org) offers optional certification. Forensic pathology is utilized in several settings, including:

  • Government agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Medical schools
  • Private or group practices

Important Facts about this Occupation

Average Salary (2019) $203,022
On-the-Job Training Minimal; employers expect new hires to be already equipped for the position when they start
Work Environment Spend most of time in labs; may stand for long periods; may work long workdays, 10-12 hours; may be required to testify in court; may be emotionally demanding because of proximity to death and disease
Similar Occupations Forensic Science Technicians, Physicians, Surgeons, Forensic Anthropologist, Forensic Toxicologist

Source: www.PayScale.com

Duties and Responsibilities

When completing a death investigation, a forensic pathologist identifies a body and predicts the time of death. A forensic pathologist also labels the manner of death as homicide, suicide, accident, or natural, and, in certain cases, determines what instrument caused the death.

Prior to conducting an autopsy, a forensic pathologist reviews the deceased's medical history and gathers information on circumstances of the death. He or she then completes an internal and external examination of the body, removing tissue samples for later testing. Standard laboratory tests ordered or performed by a forensic pathologist might include:

  • X-rays
  • Blood screenings
  • Urine analysis
  • Toxicology testing

After completing an autopsy, a forensic pathologist uses all gathered information to form a conclusion on the method and manner of the victim's death and puts his or her findings in a written report. Forensic pathologists often are called upon to testify in court as expert witnesses.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) does not provide information specific to forensic pathologists, it does publish data for physicians and surgeons in general. The BLS predicts that the employment of physicians and surgeons should grow by about 13% between 2016 and 2026. PayScale.com published in May 2019 that the majority of pathologists earn between $99,000 and $302,000 of total pay a year.

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