How to Become a Forensic Pathologist Assistant: Education Requirements & Programs

Forensic pathology assistants help forensic pathologists determine a person's cause of death. Find out more about the education requirements and job description to see if this career is right for you. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

A forensic pathologists' assistant works with a forensic pathologist to collect and analyze evidence in postmortem exams, which is then used to determine time and cause of a person's death. Read below to learn more about the education and job requirements.

Required Degree Master's degree from a NAACLS-accredited pathologists' assistant program
Education Field of Study Health/medical science, forensic science, and pathology
Key Skills Analytical, communication, detailed oriented, critical thinking, ability to work with cadavers
License/Certification American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) certification required
Job Growth (2018-2028) 14% (Forensic Science Technicians)*
Median Salary (2019) $80,766**

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

What Does a Forensic Pathologists' Assistant Do?

A forensic pathologists' assistant assists the supervising forensic pathologist with procedures before, during, and after the postmortem exam. This typically includes preparing the cadaver, and dissecting and collecting samples from tissue, hair, blood, and other bodily fluids. They may also take forensic photographs of the cadaver. The forensic pathologists' assistant may run DNA, toxicology, and other laboratory tests on the collected samples to help determine the cause of death and whether a crime is suspected. This job also has several administrative duties, such as ordering supplies, preparing reports, and training staff.

What are the Education Requirements?

Forensic pathologists' assistants are expected to have a science background, including courses in biology, chemistry, microbiology, and anatomy and physiology. This is typically completed through an undergraduate program in science leading to a bachelor's degree. Shadowing a current forensic pathologists' assistant is highly recommended. A master's degree from a pathology assistant program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS) is required.

What Does the Pathology Assistant Program Include?

A pathology assistant program typically takes about two years to complete. During the first year, students spend their time taking medical courses in fields such as medical terminology, pathology, anatomy, histology, and management. The second year is devoted to clinical fieldwork in several rotations through program-affiliated hospitals. These rotations allow students to gain skills in the autopsy and surgical pathology techniques necessary to become successful in their career. Students also gain skills in histology techniques, forensic photography, laboratory operations, and management. These programs are highly competitive and very intensive.

Is Certification Required?

Forensic pathologists' assistants must have ASCP certification. Once you complete your pathology assistant program, you can take the ASCP certification examination. Those who successfully pass the exam can use the designation PA(ASCP). To maintain your certification, you must complete a minimum number of continuing education credits every three years.

Where Do Forensic Pathologist Assistants Work?

Forensic pathologists' assistant jobs are found in several different settings, including hospitals and private pathology laboratories. Forensic pathologists' assistants may work for state, federal, or local governments. This can include the medical examiner's office, state departments of public health, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Forensic pathology assistants can work both part-time or full-time, and hours can fluctuate depending on the job.

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