Forensic Pathology Assistant: Job Description, Education & Training

Find out about work duties, education and training requirements of forensic pathology assistants. Also learn how much you can expect to earn in this profession. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career at a Glance

A forensic pathologists' assistant aids the forensic pathologist in determining the time and cause of a person's death and other information crucial in criminal investigations and legal proceedings. Under supervision, they prepare post-mortem exams, collect samples, preserve evidence, and assist in procedures such as toxicology tests. Find out more details in the table that follows.

Degree Required NAACLS-accredited master's degree
Education Field of Study 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 (2016-2026) 37% (physician assistants); 17% (forensic science technicians)*
Average Annual Wage (2019) $80,766**

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

What Duties Does a Forensic Pathology Assistant Perform?

The duties of a forensic pathologists' 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. Through their investigations, they can assist in pinpointing the time and cause of a person's death, and provide other valuable details about 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 further responsible for clerical duties, such as preparing reports for the pathologist when they have to give testimony during court proceedings. They may handle correspondence, order equipment, manage schedules, and train other staff. Additional 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 Pathologists' Assistant?

To become forensic pathologists' 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. They confer a master's degree. There are a limited number of accredited programs in the nation, making them competitive.

Do I Need to Get Certified?

After completing your pathologists' 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). To maintain this certification, 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 and gain experience. Pathologists' assistants are routinely confronted with stressful and potentially traumatic life events, and the work in practice might be different than what you imagined when studying theoretical knowledge in college. Experience with a trained professional can also help make you a more competitive candidate for admission to the accredited training programs.

What Are the Salary and Job Outlook?

PayScale.com reported the median annual salary of forensic pathology assistants at $80,766 in 2019. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) keeps no statistics specifically for forensic pathologists' assistants. Physician assistants, who work with doctors including pathologists, can expect 37% growth between 2016 and 2026, according to the BLS. Forensic science technicians, who accomplish many duties similar to forensic pathology assistants, can look forward to 17% growth during that same time period, says the BLS.

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