Forensic Pathology

(Medical Examiner)

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Education Requirements

To become a forensic pathologist you must first earn a bachelors degree, then a medical degree, either an M.D. or an D.O. Extensive additional training and education is required including four to five years of training in anatomic, clinical and/or forensic pathology and a one year residency or fellowship in forensic pathology. Once training is complete you then must pass an exam to become board certified.


Forensic pathologists, or medical examiners, are specially trained physicians who examine the bodies of people who died suddenly, unexpectedly or violently. The forensic pathologist is responsible for determining the cause and manner of death. They also ensure that procedures regarding evidence collection are followed, and coordinate their work with law enforcement operations.
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The average annual salary for those who are in the field in their first few years is generally going to be between about $76,000 and $116,000. Those who have more experience and who are in the middle of their careers might expect a salary of between $122,000 and $211,000. Salaries for hospital-based pathologists tends to be higher than those for medico legal forensic pathologists who work in legal facilities such as the coroner’s or medical examiner’s office. As mentioned previously, the average medico legal forensic pathologist salary range is $150,000 to $180,000.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes forensic pathology in the same category as many of the other forensic sciences, and it indicates that the outlook for jobs in the field is healthy and growing. According to the 2010 BLS report , the rate of growth in the general field of forensic science should be about 19 percent. This is about average relative to many other occupations, and the BLS predicts that there should be about another 2,400 jobs in the forensic sciences by 2020. Of course, the number of forensic pathologist jobs is only going to represent a fraction of that number. If NAME has its way, perhaps 500 of those 2,400 jobs would be forensic pathology positions, but that would be best-case scenario.

Working Conditions

Some forensic pathologists work for the city, county or federal government, while others work in hospitals, medical schools or with a private or group practice that contracts autopsy services to government agencies. Forensic pathologists spend most of their time in the lab, performing autopsies or examining tissue samples under the microscope. This can involve standing for extended periods and working with small tools. A typical workday can last 10 to 12 hours or longer, particularly if the forensic pathologist must examine a distant death site. Part of the workday also may include writing official reports and making court appearances.

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