What you need to know about a career in Forensic Pathology

Published: 16th January 2012
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As a forensic pathologist in practice for over two decades now, I've come across a myriad of cases and have examined numerous bodies to help coroners and prosecutors pin down the proverbial "bad guys". It's an often unpleasant job, one which requires a lot of persistence and a really solid stomach - the cases I see on day to day basis can be grusome, to say the least.


For those of you interested in becoming a forensic pathologist, you have to keep this in mind - it's a tough job, but the opportunities and benefits are worth it, for a personal perspective at least. If you're willing to go through more than a decade of school (medical school, forensic pathology program, regional pathology association exams) and have the gut for it, forensic pathology might be your current best career choice.


First of all, let me go though what forensic pathology really means. Well, in lay man's terms, forensic pathology is a branch of the field of pathology which applies the principles of pathology to the legal profession. Forensic pathologists specialize in examining bodies and evidence such as body fluids and tissue samples for the purpose of gathering information which can be used in criminal investigation and court trials.


Forensic Pathology is actually the most popular form of forensics, which in term has lead to a wide range of confusion as people tend to believe forensics, in general, and pathology are one of the same thing. Well, blame CSI for that. They're different, hope it's clear by now.


A specialist in forensic pathology has training in this field, with additional skills which can be applied to the legal field. A forensic pathologist's main attribute is that of determining the cause of death, however, equally important is that of determining the circumstances of the subsequent death. A forensic pathologist during his practice will:



  • Determining cause of death

  • Forensic examination of the body (external/internal/clothing)

  • Identifying absense/presence of disease from tissue samples

  • Examining post mortem wounds & Injuries

  • Collaborative evidence collection e.g. blood, hair, semen samples passed to criminalists, toxicologists etc for specialist analysis

  • Collaborative investigation e.g. body identification work with forensic odontologists (dentists) and physical anthropologists.

  • Acting as an expert witness in civil/criminal proceedings


Now, that was just a brief overview of the job description. In practice, forensic pathology is an incredibly intense field, which takes you through all kinds of situation on a day to day basis. This is why, typically, a forensic pathologist is a very innovative and ingenious bloke.


If you're still keen on setting on this career path, here's what you need to become a forensic pathologist. You first need to complete your undergrad in medical or related sciences; then you need to follow and graduate from med school. Be careful at this part. Be sure to thoroughly research your post-undergrad options and requirements, which vary from institution to institution, before choosing your bachelor curriculum. Read our list of forensic pathology schools.


After med school, you'll have to enroll in four-year residency program in clinical pathology, with a supplimentary year of residency in forensic pathology afterwards. Finally, you'll be required to hold and pass an exam from your regional forensic pathology board. Then, after around 14 years of academic training, you should finally become a forensic pathologist. Congratulations!


 


 



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