Forensic Pathologist | Criminal Justice Schools

How to Become a Forensic Pathologist

Forensic pathologists play an important role in our criminal justice system—and in our society in general. They provide critical pieces of information to law enforcement about a person’s death, which can be clues to understanding and solving a crime.


 

What Does a Forensic Pathologist Do?

The primary responsibility of a forensic pathologist is to perform autopsies on post-mortem patients to determine the manner, mechanism, cause, and time of death. In most cases, they examine the bodies of people who died unexpectedly or suddenly, as in instances of suicide, homicide, accidents, sudden illnesses, or natural disasters. They might examine the bodies of the recently deceased or of people who died several months, years, or even decades before.

In addition to performing autopsies, forensic pathologists:

  • Examine the medical histories of the deceased.
  • Collect, examine, and analyze evidence from bodies.
  • Analyze material evidence like weapons, medications, and other physical items that played a role in the death.
  • Identify, collect, and examine trace evidence like gunshot residue, pollen, wood, soil, human and animal hair, fibers, foliage, glass, rope, fabric, and building materials.
  • Compare crime scene evidence to corresponding evidence found on bodies.
  • Spend time in a lab analyzing tissue samples, blood and other fluids, and anything else the deceased inadvertently took away from or left at the crime scene.
  • Perform and evaluate toxicology screenings and ballistics tests.

Forensic pathologists also have responsibilities outside of the lab, such as:

  • Documenting and presenting findings.
  • Creating comprehensive, detailed reports.
  • Working closely with law enforcement and medical authorities throughout the course of examinations and investigations.
  • Providing expert testimony in court.

In some cases, forensic pathologists examine the bodies of living people to identify signs of physical, sexual, domestic, or child abuse. Sometimes called clinical forensic pathologists, these professionals use their skills to identify suspicious contusions, lacerations, tears, breaks, and other injuries.

Salary and Career Outlook Information for Forensic Pathologists

There is no specific career outlook data for forensic pathologists, but CareerExplorer projects 11.4% job growth between 2016–2026 for pathologists in general. The projected growth for a related career in forensics, forensic science technician, is +11% between 2018 and 2028.

In terms of salary, forensic pathology is a lucrative career. According to ZipRecruiter data from October 2019, the median salary is $143,548 a year, with the top 10% earning $227,000 or more.

The top five states in terms of highest median salary are:

  • New York: $157,108
  • Massachusetts: $155,980
  • New Hampshire: $153,252
  • Maryland: $146,997
  • Nebraska: $144,839

Forensic Pathologist Education

To work as a forensic pathologist you will need a medical degree and extensive training. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
  2. Earn a medical degree
  3. Engage in a residency
  4. Complete a fellowship

After you finish your education you will need to get a medical license and become board-certified.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

As an undergraduate you’ll likely pursue a degree that focuses on science. Thus, you will earn a Bachelor of Science degree as opposed to a Bachelor of Arts degree. Some schools offer undergraduate degrees in forensic science and others have pre-med conditions, but you won’t find a bachelor’s program specifically in forensic pathology.

No matter your degree, your program should include coursework like chemistry, math, biology, microbiology, anatomy, serology, and DNA technology. You will also have to complete the prerequisite coursework necessary for getting into medical school. If possible, you should take elective courses in areas such as criminal justice, toxicology, ballistics, and criminal investigation.

Earn a Medical Degree

Medical school is a unique kind of doctoral program that is divided into two sections: pre-clinical and clinical. Most programs last four years.

During pre-clinical years you will take lecture-based courses in topics like biomedicine, the doctor-patient relationship, physical examination procedures, and medical history.

During your clinical years you’ll complete both elective and required rotations in medical institutions and healthcare facilities. Before applying, check that the medical schools you’re considering offer rotations in a medical examiner’s office.

Complete a Residency

The end of medical school earns you the coveted title of M.D., but it is not the end of your training. The next step is to complete a residency, which is a kind of advanced internship that will give you hands-on experience with real responsibilities in forensic pathology settings.

Concentrations will shift between clinical and anatomical pathology during the residency program, which can last four years or more. Aside from hands-on work, you’ll also participate in seminars and lectures in topics like crime scene investigation and courtroom procedures.

Complete a Fellowship

Your training will end with a one-year fellowship, during which you’ll perform autopsies, focus on specialties such as forensic orthodontics, and investigate actual crime scenes. You will most likely work with your city’s medical examiner’s office and possibly with law enforcement agencies.

Check out our four featured schools below.

Online Programs

It is not possible to go to medical school online. It’s very likely, however, that you can pursue your undergraduate degree as a distance learner—at least in part. Since you’ll likely concentrate on coursework related to science, which often involves in-person lab requirements, these programs are generally offered in a hybrid format.

Spotlight: Featured Schools

Many medical schools offer fellowships in forensic pathology. However, some schools stand out more than others and are generally recognized as being some of the best in the field.

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

UNC offers a one-year fellowship that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) under the auspices of the Chief Medical Examiner of North Carolina. Students perform between 200 and 250 autopsies during the fellowship and participate in all facets of a state-wide medical examiner system. UNC offers a wide range of subspecialties, including forensic odontology, forensic radiology, neuropathology, and forensic anthropology.

Emory University School of Medicine

Emory University’s forensic pathology fellowship focuses on practical competency and hands-on experience. The program is based at the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Center; students also train at the Georgia Division of Forensic Science Crime Lab to gain experience in forensic disciplines. Throughout the course of the training, students will perform approximately 250 autopsies and participate in 75 crime scene investigations.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern Medical School, in conjunction with Dallas County, offers an ACGME-accredited forensic pathology fellowship that places special emphasis on scientific death investigation. Students will work with not just the forensic pathology faculty, but also faculty in toxicology, biology, and anthropology.

University of Michigan Health System

The fellowship at the University of Michigan provides comprehensive training in all aspects of forensic pathology, including both scientific and criminal justice aspects. Fellows perform autopsies and participate in death scene investigations. They gain experience in forensic science specialties such as toxicology, anthropology, and odontology. Non-scientific training focuses on areas such as courtroom testimony, criminalistics, research, and administration.

University of Colorado

In addition to training at the Denver Office of Medical Examiner, fellows have rotations at the Denver Police Department Crime Laboratory and the Colorado Bureau of Investigations Toxicology Laboratory. In these rotations students train in DNA/serology, firearms, latent prints, trace evidence, and drug analysis. They develop skills in forensic photography, identification of remains, and the collection of evidence. Students also perform approximately 250 autopsies and are responsible for the final report and death certification.

Forensic Pathologist Licensing and Certification

Licensing

You’ll have to earn a license to practice medicine. Licensing requirements can vary somewhat by state, but all states require you to complete the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME). That is not to be confused with the COMLEX-USA, the licensing exam for graduates of osteopathic medical schools.

The USMLE consists of three distinct exams, which the NBME refers to as “steps”:

  • Step 1: This exam assesses your knowledge of the basic sciences you learned during your first and second years of medical school. You’ll likely take this step between your second and third year before you begin clinical rotations.
  • Step 2: This exam is administered in two parts, one for clinical skills and the other for clinical knowledge. You’ll likely have to pass Step 2 before you begin your residency.
  • Step 3: The final step can be taken as early as the start of your internship year. This in-depth examination covers the core disciplines as well as your clinical knowledge and decision-making skills.

There is some variation among states with regard to licensing requirements. For more information about state-specific requirements, visit the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).

Certification

Forensic pathologists are required to be board certified by the American Board of Pathology (ABP). This entails applying to the ABP, meeting training requirements, and passing an exam. The ABP awards certification in anatomical pathology and clinical pathology. You can become certified in a number of specialties, including forensic pathology.

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Find Forensic Serologist Schools and Programs

Forensic Serologist / Crime Scene Investigator

Crimes aren’t just solved with witness testimony, investigative work, and confessions. Physical evidence is a major part of finding out what happened at a crime scene and who was responsible for it as you may have seen on Dexter, particularly as DNA technology has progressed over the years. Forensic serologists, commonly referred to as a crime scene investigator (CSI), are some of the most crucial criminal justice professionals in this part of the crime solving process. If this career path sounds interesting to you, use our directory of schools to request information about programs in your area today!


Crime Scene Investigator Job Description

Forensic serology involves looking for, identifying, and studying bodily fluids that may be found at a crime scene, on a victim, or in relation to a crime that’s been committed. Safety is of the utmost importance in this job, since you may come in contact with feces, urine, semen, blood, and other potential disease-carrying fluids. Not only must you be well-versed in the identification and handling of different bodily fluids, you must be completely educated in how to safely interact with them without risking disease transmission or destroying evidence.

As a forensic serologist/crime scene investigator, you may work for many different local police stations, crime labs, and other criminal justice agencies. In addition to working with samples in the lab, your expertise may be needed in the courtroom. Serologists may be summoned to court as expert witnesses.

If you are ready to take on the responsibilities of handling major crime evidence, you can look into earning the necessary qualifications for this challenging field.

How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator

The first step to becoming a working forensic serologist/crime scene investigator is completing an undergraduate degree in a relevant field. It’s clear that this field is highly science-based, with a focus on human biology and chemistry. Different bachelor’s degrees may qualify you for a career in forensic serology, including biology, chemistry, and human biology. These four-year degrees may include courses like Anatomy and Physiology, Pathology, and Organic Chemistry, all of which can help you develop your knowledge of bodily fluids.

Your education may end here, depending on where you want to work. Some police departments and criminal justice agencies, especially those with large case loads or high-exposure cases, may require forensic serologists to have a master’s degree in forensic science or criminal justice. Look for a program with specific courses in DNA analysis, forensic serology, and forensic chemistry. The curriculum for a forensic science program may include classes like Forensic Microscopy, Forensic Serology, Expert Testimony, and Instrumentation in Forensic Chemistry. If your undergraduate degree included lots of lab time and human biology experience, this may take the place of specific forensic training.

When you start at a criminal justice agency or forensic lab, you may need to get trained in the specific lab procedures of that agency. Keep in mind that the sample you receive from a crime scene may well be the only one available; contaminating it or rendering it unfit for analysis can have a devastating impact on an investigation. This is why lab procedures and specimen storage is such an important part of your training.

This career path is not overseen by any licensing or certification agencies. There are optional certification routes that you can look into if you wish, but your education and experience will likely be what potential employers look at. The American Board of Criminalistics is one of the largest optional certification programs in the US.

CSI Salary and Career Outlook

This industry is seeing faster growth than many other industries. Between 2016 and 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects job openings for forensic technicians to increase at 17%, which is faster than the national average for other jobs. Crime isn’t a field that ever rests, so the need for forensic specialists will likely stay consistent. As DNA analysis techniques become more sophisticated and demand more highly-trained specialists, the nationwide outlook for forensic serologists may continue to increase.

Although the BLS does not collect specific insight on a forensic serologists’ salary, it’s likely between $57,850 – $83,320, based on the average salaries earned by forensic science technicians and criminal investigators.

It’s extremely important to be self-motivated, able to work independently, and capable of working very carefully. One wrong move may destroy evidence that prosecutors count on to put criminals away. A recent Palm Beach Post report on the retirement of the crime-lab chief shows how important a forensic serologist’s work is. Using forensic serology, she was able to solve rapes, homicides, and cold cases.

In many cities, thousands of old rape kits are being used to put rapists behind bars. These samples must be processed and analyzed by trained serologists that can properly process samples that are years old. With your attention to detail and careful work, you can directly contribute to efforts to make your community safer.

Don’t wait to learn more about criminal justice programs that can help you become a forensic serologist. Contact the schools in your area today to request more information!

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Forensic Anthropology Schools | Anthropologist Education

Forensic Anthropology

If you have a strong stomach, a desire to do right by victims of crime, and an intense interest in the science behind crime and human biology, forensic anthropology may be the perfect criminal justice specialty for you. Violent crime is on the rise in many parts of the country, and some crimes may leave victims mutilated, unrecognizable, or left to decompose for weeks before being recovered. In the distant past, this simply meant that no evidence could be collected and the guilty criminal got away scot-free.

Now, forensic anthropologists can look at bodies in various states of decomposition or abuse and use their skills to determine how someone died, what physically happened to them before and after death, and how long they’ve been deceased. By using other evidence, they may even be able to determine where someone died and if there was trauma or disease present before the crime. Does a career in forensic anthropology sound interesting to you? If so, use our listings to find forensic anthropology schools and learn about programs in your area today!

What Does a Forensic Anthropologist Do?

As a forensic anthropologist, you need to have an ironclad ability to deal with violent crime and its aftereffects. You’ll be called by police stations and investigators to examine corpses, put together remains, or answer questions about the life a person led before they died.

Typically, forensic anthropologists are only called in for cases where foul play is suspected. As a result, forensic anthropologists’ come into close contact with corpses that have been subjected to torture, rape, brutalization, and other unthinkable crimes. No matter what your feelings are on a case, you must be able to maintain your professionalism and report the facts. Forensic anthropologists are rewarded with the knowledge that they’re helping make their community a safer place.

Crime Specialist at Work - Analyzing a a body in the forest

How to Become a Forensic Anthropologist

If you want a career as a forensic anthropologist, here are the basic steps:

1. Complete the appropriate college undergraduate degree(s).
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in physiology, anatomy or anthropology, although an undergraduate degree in biology, chemistry, math, or forensic science can also provide good preparation.

2. Complete a graduate degree.
A forensic anthropologist is called upon to apply advanced knowledge and skills in medical and legal situations, so to move beyond a technician’s position you’ll need at least a master’s degree in forensic, biological, or physical anthropology. Most positions will require a PhD.

There are a limited number of jobs for forensic anthropologists, so even if the position you’re applying for doesn’t require a PhD, having a doctorate can give you an advantage over other candidates in this very competitive field. Those who want to teach or do forensic anthropology research in academia will also find a doctoral degree is needed.

3. Gain the appropriate work experience.
An internship with a law enforcement agency or medical examiner’s office can provide valuable real-world experience and teach you how and when to apply what you’ve learned in the classroom, and can be a great bridge to your first job as a forensic anthropologist.

4. Find a mentor.
If you can, find an osteologist (an anatomist who is skilled in the study of bones) willing to be your mentor and help guide you because you’ll need a solid background in physical anthropology and osteology. Learn how to analyze bones and to understand what interpretations and explanations can be made from your analysis, as well as how it applies in every context.

5. Join professional organizations.
Join a professional organization such as The Society of Forensic Anthropologists (SOFA). Most people in professional careers join organizations that help them stay current in their field, contribute to their professional development, and provide opportunities to network with others.

6. Get a professional certification.
You may also want to consider post-graduate certification, such as that offered by the American Board of Forensic Anthropologists (ABFA).

7. Find a job.
Forensic anthropologists typically work in law enforcement, government agencies, the armed services, academia, or private consulting firms. The amount and type of experience required can vary greatly depending on the job. The majority of forensic anthropologists are employed by academic or research institutions. They also consult on cases when needed.

Undergraduate Degree Options

The first step is earning a bachelor’s degree. This is probably the most flexible step of your education. You should consider majoring in a relevant field like criminal justice, human biology, anthropology, or forensic science. These majors can give you the criminal justice or human biology background you need to thrive in a forensic anthropology degree.

Consider taking courses like Human Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, and Introduction to Forensic Science, regardless of your degree choice. This step of your education may take about four years.

Master’s Degrees in Forensic Anthropology

The next step in your career path is earning a Master of Science in Forensic Anthropology. This degree program delves into specific subject areas and skills you’ll need in this career. Though the full program curriculum varies between schools, you can plan on taking similar courses no matter which school you attend.

You may take classes like Bioarchaeology, Experimental Design for Forensic Anthropology, Mortuary Archaeology, Advanced Osteology, and Expert Witness Testimony. You may also take classes that focus on outdoor crime scenes, field methods, thesis development, and biological anthropology. This degree has a significant hands-on component, so you may work at constructed crime scenes, look at pictures, and use models to hone your skills. If you attend school full-time, you may be able to earn a master’s degree in two years.

Doctorate Degrees in Forensic Anthropology

In many cases, a PhD is required. Earning a PhD can be time-consuming, so it’s important to plan ahead. Most students take between three and seven years to write and defend their thesis. To earn a PhD in forensic anthropology, you’ll need to choose a specialty area of study in this field, research it, and write a thesis under the guidance of your advisor.

To prepare to become a forensic anthropologist, you’ll want to understand biological anthropology theory and study the physical aspects of crime scenes, such as bone identification, facial reconstruction techniques, data analysis to determine sex and gender, and decomposition patterns. You may want to choose a PhD program in forensic, biological, or physical anthropology.

Courses in a doctoral forensic anthropology program might include:

  • Human Osteology – a study of the methods of interpreting the human skeleton. You will learn how to identify human skeletal elements, assign age, biological sex, and geographic ancestry.
  • Outdoor Crime Scenes – training in the techniques of the recovery of human remains to maximize evidence recovery at outdoor scenes.
  • Forensic Serology – the identification of body fluids of forensic interest, including blood, semen, and saliva. Sources of false positive and negative results will also be examined.
  • Field Methods in Forensic Anthropology – methods of forensic anthropology through the examination and analysis of human skeletal remains; examine and document skeletal lesions indicative of disease and trauma.

Forensic Anthropology Salary and Career Outlook

The general job outlook for forensic anthropologists is very positive. Between 2016 and 2026, O*Net expects job openings for anthropologists to increase faster than average when compared to other occupations. It’s difficult to say how this pans out to forensic anthropologists specifically, since forensic anthropology is a highly specialized job. The job outlook does tend to be better in places where there are robust police stations and crime laboratories.

Across the country, the average salary for a forensic anthropologist is $63,190 per year (O*Net, 2017). However, it’s helpful to look at where you plan on living and working to determine a potential salary range. O*Net indicates that the average salary for a Texas anthropologist is $65,920 per year. In New York, the average salary is slightly higher than the national average, at $85,210 per year (O*Net, 2017). The average salary for an anthropologist in California is $65,050 per year (O*Net, 2017).

Forensic anthropologists usually have expertise in multiple disciplines such as document analysis, DNA, fingerprinting, and firearms identification. Because of their expertise, education, experience, professional affiliations, and published works they may be called to testify as expert witnesses during criminal trials.

Successful forensic anthropologists are analytical and detail-oriented, able to identify and link evidence to a suspect or crime scene. They use critical thinking to pick apart bits information and are able to connect seemingly disparate pieces.

Forensic anthropologists may also benefit from a strong stomach and an ability to remain somewhat emotionally detached since they will likely be examining remains of murder victims.

Careers Similar to Forensic Anthropologists

Forensic anthropology is only one of the many forensic science careers you can choose to pursue. Below, we discuss a few others that are similar to forensic anthropology that you might want to consider:

Forensic Science Technician
Forensic science technicians often go to crime scenes to collect evidence. Working in the lab, they run a variety of tests and use their unique knowledge and skill sets to analyze the results. Then they summarize their findings and present it via written reports. There may also be times when they’re asked to make a verbal summary or presentation. These technicians play an essential role in resolving criminal matters.

Forensic Serologist
Serology is the scientific study of serum and other bodily fluids. Forensic serologists are specialists who study blood, urine, saliva, semen and other fluids left at crime scenes to help investigators solve crimes. They help identify potential suspects and the probable sequence of events. They often work for law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

Forensic Pathologist
Forensic pathologists often hold the title of medical examiner. They’re responsible for determining the cause and manner of death. Using all of the available information, they decide whether the event was a homicide or suicide, whether death was accidental or from natural causes, or whether it can’t be determined given the evidence and facts and has to be declared unknown.

Forensic Toxicologist
Toxicology is known as the “science of poisons.” It’s the study of chemicals on living organisms and involves studying the symptoms, mechanisms, treatments, and detection of poisoning through biological, physical, or chemical means.

Forensic toxicology combines toxicology with disciplines such as pharmacology to aid in the investigation of deaths. As science evolves, our knowledge and understanding of the effects of various toxic agents on the body continues to progress.

Jobs are typically found with local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies, crime labs, coroners’ offices, hospitals, universities, or independent forensic and science consulting firms.

FAQs

What is the purpose of forensic anthropology?

Forensic anthropology applies the study of physical anthropology and human skeletons. A forensic anthropologist applies physical anthropology scientific techniques to help determine the identity and/or cause of death of a person when only skeletal remains are available, often in criminal cases.

How many years does it take to become a forensic anthropologist?

The real answer is, “it varies.” While there are forensic anthropologists with an MS degree, most have PhD’s. The typical time frame to obtain a BS degree is four years. Getting a master’s degree averages two to three years, and the time needed to complete a PhD can vary significantly. Some people finish in three to four years, others take five or more years due to multiple variables including finances, family situations, and the time needed to collect data, analyze it, complete needed research and write a dissertation on their chosen subject. So, from an education perspective, you’re looking at 9-14 years of formal study. Additionally, you’ll need to gain experience in applying what you’ve learned to real-world situations.

Why is forensic anthropology important?

Forensic anthropologists bring a unique perspective to solving a death investigation that would otherwise go unresolved. The main focus of a forensic anthropologist is to process crime scenes, examine and process remains, develop a biological profile, compile appropriate documentation, and testify in court. Their unique knowledge and skills provide law enforcement with expert answers and conclusions that aid in closing cases.

Forensic Anthropology Resources


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