Forensic Pathologist Assistant: Job Description & Duties

A forensic pathologist assistant works with a forensic pathologist to help determine the time and cause of a person's death, and other information crucial in criminal investigations and legal proceedings. Find out more about the job and work duties, as well as education and career outlook. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career at a Glance

Under the supervision of a forensic pathologist, forensic pathologist assistants prepare post-mortem exams, take samples to collect and preserve evidence, and assist in procedures such as toxicology tests to help analyze crimes. Through their investigations, they can assist in pinpointing the time and cause of a person's death, and provide other information to understand the circumstances of a victim's demise. Find out more details in the table that follows.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Biology, chemistry, forensic science, or a related field
Additional Training Required NAACLS-accredited pathologists' assistant program
Key Skills Attention to detail, analytical, problem solving, good at following instructions, work well under pressure, not squeamish
Certification Required American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
Job Growth (2018-2028) 31% (physician assistants); 14% (forensic science technicians)*
Average Annual Wage (2019) $83,024**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale

What Duties Does a Forensic Pathologist Assistant Perform?

The duties of a forensic pathologist assistant include preparing and assisting with postmortem exams; dissecting, retrieving and testing tissue samples; taking other samples, such as those for DNA analysis or for sexual assault kits; and helping with toxicology tests and other examinations relevant to determining the details of a suspected or obvious crime. An assistant may also be asked to take photos of a crime scene or collect other forms of evidence.

A forensic pathology assistant is also responsible for clerical duties, such as preparing reports for the pathologist if they have to give testimony during court proceedings, handling correspondence, ordering equipment, managing schedules, and training other staff.

Further aspects of the job include communication and collaboration with other assistants and pathologists, as well as coroners and police agencies.

What Education Do I Need to Become a Forensic Pathologist Assistant?

To become forensic pathologist assistant, you need a bachelor's degree in science, such as biology, chemistry, forensic science or a related field.

You then need to enter a pathologists' assistant program that is accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). These programs take about two years, with the first year focusing on coursework and the second on working in various affiliated hospitals.

A master of science (MS) degree is not required but could give job seekers an edge.

Do I Need to Get Certified?

After completing your pathologist assistant program, you have to take your certification examination from the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCP). You can then use the designation PA (ASCP)!

The certification is not a one-off effort. Rather, to maintain it, 45 continuing education credits have to be obtained every three years, and the ASCP is planning to increase this to 60 credits every three years.

Do I Need Additional Experience and Skills?

According to the American Association of Pathologists' Assistants, it is highly recommended to shadow a practicing pathologists' assistant to learn more about the career.

After all, pathologist assistants are routinely confronted with stressful and potentially traumatic life events, and the work in practice might be different to what you imagined when studying theoretical knowledge in college.

What Are the Salary and Job Outlook?

PayScale puts the average annual salary of pathology assistants at $83,024 in 2019. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) keeps no statistics specifically for forensic pathologist assistants. Physician assistants, who work with doctors, including pathologists, can expect 31% growth between 2018 and 2028, according to the BLS. Forensic science technicians, who accomplish many duties similar to forensic pathology assistants, can look forward to 14% growth during that same time period, says the BLS.

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