If you’ve ever watched crime investigation television shows, you know that there are many ways homicides occur. Unless there are experts available in different types of murder, it can be difficult to pinpoint the direct cause of a victim’s death. Forensic toxicologists are part of the expert team that investigates suspicious death and helps determine what led to someone’s death. If you are interested in becoming a forensic toxicologist, we can help point you in the right direction. Simply use our directory of schools who offer criminal justice programs to request information about programs today. We recommend contacting multiple schools to be sure you choose the best one for you!
Forensic Toxicologist Job Description
This job can be fairly challenging, since you must know about all sorts of different chemicals and how they work in the body. Your knowledge must extend to illegal substances, like heroin, cocaine, and meth, as well as legally-prescribed drugs that may lead to death when taken incorrectly. After being provided with a sample of blood, urine, or another bodily fluid, a forensic toxicologist can begin looking for telltale signs of foul play or poisoning. When it’s suspected that the victim ingested or was given something that led to their death, toxicologists must identify the substances in the victim’s body. From there, they can determine how long the substance has been in the body, how much was taken, and whether or not it could have caused death.
When you’re considering a job that requires this much intensive knowledge, you should prepare to meet strict educational standards. Before you can be considered for forensic toxicologist jobs, you’ll need to complete an in-depth training program.
How to Become a Forensic Toxicologist
Working in the field of forensic toxicology requires a comprehensive understanding of many different scientific specialties, as well as intensive knowledge of the criminal justice field. While you may be able to obtain criminal justice training on-the-job, you must be formally trained in the natural sciences. At the bachelor’s degree level, you can earn a degree in toxicology, chemistry, or biology. Toxicology is a fairly uncommon college major; if it’s not available to you, then chemistry or biology are acceptable alternatives. Regardless of which degree you decide to earn, you must spend lots of time in the laboratory, perfecting your lab skills and learning how to work with sensitive materials. At the undergraduate level, your curriculum may include courses like Pathophysiologic Principles of Human Disease, Pharmacology and Toxicology, Laboratory Techniques in Pharmacology and Toxicology, and General Genetics.
With a bachelor’s degree, you may have all the training and education you need to start an entry-level job in forensic toxicology. Certain hiring agencies may require a master’s degree or PhD. For example, crime investigation agencies in large cities may have a huge range of substances that come through their lab, so they may only want to hire toxicologists with graduate-level education.
If you opt to earn a master’s degree, you can study forensic science or toxicology. Your curriculum may include courses like Criminal Evidence and Investigation, Analytical Chemistry, Criminalistics, Pharmacology, and Forensic Pathology.
Those who go into forensic toxicology may be interested in obtaining certification. It’s important to note that certification is not currently required for you to start a career in this specialty. The American Board of Forensic Toxicology has a certification program for toxicology specialists. However, you must first complete three years of work experience after earning a bachelor’s degree. Your degree must provide you with adequate training in chemistry, biology, toxicology, and pharmacology to qualify you for licensure.
Forensic Toxicologist Salary and Career Outlook
In coming years, the nationwide need for forensic toxicologists may increase slightly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 17% increase in job openings for forensic science technicians between 2016 and 2026. This growth rate is faster than average, compared to all other professions. A lot depends on what part of the country you live in and how common crime is in your area. If you take on work for multiple agencies or police departments, you may have a more promising job outlook than those who will only work close to home.
The average annual wage for forensic science technician is $57,850. In many parts of the country, salaries for forensic scientists are significantly higher. For example, in California, forensic science technicians earn an average annual salary of $82,650. In other areas, salaries tend to be lower; forensic technicians in Arkansas bring in a median income of $39,830.
Working as a Forensic Toxicologist
This job requires a lot of mental acuity and strength, since you may spend days trying to figure out why a test read a certain way or why a specific chemical was found in a victim’s body. Forensic toxicology can be a solitary job; toxicologists often spend their entire shifts in crime labs, treating samples or running tests on vials of bodily fluids. However, you may work with other forensic professionals in your lab to figure out difficult-to-read results or put your results together with existing evidence. It’s important to note that forensic toxicologists have fairly limited authority in a courtroom or other legal settings. While you can find out what’s in a victim’s body, how long it’s been there, and how it got there, it’s up to investigators and crime specialists to rule cause of death and come up with theories.
Forensic toxicology is an extremely important field, especially if you want to bring justice to victims of horrible crime. KPC News reports of a fire in Indiana that appeared to lead to the death of a 23-year-old woman and her 3-year-old daughter. However, thanks to the work of a toxicology lab, it was found that both victims were dead prior to the fire starting. This finding allowed investigators to begin treating the deaths as homicides. Your education and experience in toxicology may lead to faster and more effective investigating throughout your state.
Don’t wait to learn more about entering the field of forensic toxicology. Contact the schools in our directory to request information about program in your area today!