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How to Become a Forensic Pathologist: Degree & Education

Find out about the educational and certification requirements to become a forensics pathologist, as well as how to gain work experience and the salary and job outlook you can expect.

Career at a Glance

Forensic pathologists are called upon when a person has died unexpectedly or under suspicious circumstances. They determine the cause and time of death and assist in solving criminal investigations or matters related to legal proceedings. Learn more details in the table below.

Degree Required Doctoral or professional degree
Education Field of Study Medicine, pathology
Key Skills Attention to detail, analytical thinking, integrity, critical thinking, communication, problem solving
Licensure or Certification Physician licensing required; certification through the American Board of Pathology suggested
Job Growth (2018-2028) 8% (physicians and surgeons, all other)*
Median Annual Wage (2018) $203,880 (physicians and surgeons, all other)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Do Forensic Pathologists Do?

Forensic pathologists examine medical records and perform autopsies to pinpoint the cause and time of a person's death. They collect and analyze tissue samples and other evidence, perform microbial or parasite tests, write reports about their findings and testify in court.

Forensic pathologists also look at wound patterns to identify the type of weapon that may have been used in an attack and retrieve crucial evidence such as bullets. Sometimes, these professionals must also interact with relatives of victims and help them understand the circumstances of someone's death.

They may work in hospitals or in morgues from a coroner's office and collaborate with law enforcement officials to resolve criminal investigations.

What Education Do I Need to Become a Forensic Pathologist?

Forensic pathologists have to undergo more than a dozen years of education and training to work in their field. First they need to complete a four-year bachelor's degree in science, then be admitted to and complete medical school, which tends to take another four years, before training a further few years in their specialty during internships and residencies. Residencies in pathology typically last around four years. Lastly, aspiring forensic pathologists need to complete a one-year fellowship to specialize in the forensics aspect of their field.

Do I Need Additional Experience?

To start gaining experience, talk to your professors about part-time lab work once you have a couple of years of medical school under your belt, and approach the local medical examiner's office to see if volunteer work is available.

Once you are doing your residency in pathology, start doing rotations at the coroner or medical examiner's office and apply for a fellowship in forensic pathology.

What Certification or License Do I Need?

Physicians, such as pathologists, have to gain a medical license to practice in the U.S. Applicants can apply for the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) once they complete their residency.

You don't need board certification to practice as a forensic pathologist, but many employers require it. To become certified by the American Board of Pathology, three to four years of specialty training is required and applicants have to pass a specialty certification exam.

What Income and Job Growth Can I Expect?

The outlook for forensic pathologists is better than average, with expected job growth of 8% for 'physicians and surgeons, all other,' which included forensic pathologists, from 2018 to 2028, according to the BLS.

The annual median salary for 'physicians and surgeons, all other,' including forensic pathologists, was $203,880 in 2018, says the BLS.