Though a well-paying career, the journey to becoming a forensic pathologist is long. Here, we provide an overview of what working in this field entails, and what to expect when you decide to take it up as your career path.
By job description, a forensic pathologist is someone who conducts an autopsy or a medical examination on the corpse of someone who met a violent or sudden death. An offshoot of the field of forensic science, the basic purpose of forensic pathology is to figure not only the cause of the death, but the manner in which the death was caused, i.e. whether it was a murder, suicide, an accidental death, or a natural death. The field of forensic pathology is specifically pertinent to the law and justice system. Those of you interested in taking up this field as a career choice, ought to know what the actual job of a forensic pathologist entails, what the education requirements are, and how much scope this field offers.
- The prime responsibility of a forensic pathologist is to determine the cause and manner of the death of a person. This they do by running a series of medical tests on the corpse.
- In case of death by a criminal act, a forensic pathologist is required to travel to the crime scene to collect evidence of the event in which a person has died. Usually, this happens in case of homicide and sexual assault.
- After this, the pathologist may also be required to reconstruct the situation in which the death may have occurred, to determine the cause of the death.
- They will then examine physical evidence of the corpse in a laboratory, and perform an autopsy to confirm the cause or manner of death. This autopsy may reveal the death of a person due to disease, poisoning, or any other internal injury.
- To perform an autopsy, they will be required to carry out various types of investigations on the body which will require knowledge of toxicology, radiology, and other such fields. For this they will collaborate with other medical professionals such as those in the field of forensic toxicology, forensic odontologists or dentists, and other professionals as required.
- Finally, after all research, a forensic pathologist may be utilized as an expert witness in court, which is why, it is essential for one to have excellent communication skills.
Education Requirements and Skills
With the scope of this job, it is obvious that the procedure to train yourself as a forensic pathologist is going to be long and tedious. However, you also ought to know, that there is a lot waiting at the end of this tunnel. Let’s take a look at what you need to do to become a certified forensic pathologist.
- Training begins with pursuing an undergraduate degree from a reputed college. While keeping in mind that you have to attend medical school after you obtain a degree, it is important that you choose appropriate majors in college. Based on the medical school you are applying for, the specific majors will be explained to you. Basically, science and mathematics will form the core of your course. It would be great if you also chose a minor in management skills, which will teach you not only the basics of management, but also the art of effective communication, which is an essential in this field. Keeping the medical school you want to go to in mind, you will have to pursue the right majors along with various extracurricular activities that will give you an edge over other applicants.
- The next step is getting into medical school, which indeed is a tough task. Once you get through, if it offers electives in forensic pathology, ensure that you take it. Not all medical schools do so, but fortunately, an elective in forensic pathology is not necessary.
- The next step is a residency in a hospital or university, which is where you will begin to become familiar with forensic pathology. A residency is where you will learn about anatomical pathology (the basic requirement to become a forensic pathology, and where you will be able to choose to learn about clinical pathology. Overall, this period will range anywhere between 4-5 years.
- A one year fellowship follows a residency, which you should take up in a city that has scope for this field. A residency provides thorough experience while working under a qualified forensic pathologist. Experts in this field suggest that you should choose to work in a place that performs a minimum of 200-250 autopsies in one year.
- Finally, to become a qualified forensic pathologist, you will have to clear an exam conducted by the American Board of Pathology. This may take time, as it is not easy to pass this examination for certification. Further, it is also an expensive procedure.
Once you have attained the necessary qualifications, all of which usually add up to about 13 whole years, you will finally be able to work as a certified forensic pathologist. Apart from the educational requirements for this job, there are certain skills that you should possess. The stress on great communication skills is because a forensic pathologist with such qualities is bound to make more money, and will be required to travel to different places to deal with various cases. Further, you are already aware that this job requires dealing with corpses, which means if you have a weak heart, or are an emotional person, it is going to be difficult for you to work in this field.
Research has revealed that job openings in this field are not large in number, but neither are the professionals to fill up these openings. Because completing the educational requirements takes so long, and is largely a tedious process, there are not many who are willing to, or are able to go through it. Further, this long time period also makes up for the few job opportunities in this field.
Those who do make it up to the end should know that they will now be able to make a great salary. The latest figures reveal that at the very start of their career, forensic pathologists can make up to US $60,000 in a year. As the experience increases, this figure can go almost up to US $600,000 (maximum earnings by an experienced professional). Those who have about 3 years of experience are capable of earning anywhere between US $300,000 – US $350,000. As mentioned earlier, forensic pathologists with good communication skills and with several years of experience will be able to earn much more than these figures.
With all this information, you can now decide whether you are willing to put in the time and effort, and fulfill the requirements to become one. Though it is a long process, do remember that with the pay offered in this field, the entire process is worth it.