Forensic Medicine Careers: Job Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to get a job in forensic medicine. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Forensic medicine is a specialized field of forensic science that combines medicine and law. Practitioners work in government or private sector agencies and use medical and scientific procedures to analyze evidence from crime victims or patients. Their analyses help to determine if the nature of the death, disease or injuries are the result of crime. Education requirements for careers in forensic medicine vary greatly from an associates degree to a medical degree.

Required EducationAssociate's degree, bachelor's degree or medical degree depending on the position
Other RequirementsCertification, residency program and/or additional training
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)18% (physicians and surgeons)*
Average Salary (2014)$189,760*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Options

Though forensic medicine is a specialty field, it encompasses a broad range of medical subjects with many career paths. Some job titles in forensic medicine are forensic pathologist, forensic odontologist, forensic nurse, and forensic toxicologist.

Forensic Pathologist

Forensic pathologists are doctors licensed in pathology. They examine the body tissue, fluids, organs and cells of people who have died suddenly or violently to determine the cause and manner of death. Results of the analysis are used to establish whether the cause and manner of death was due to crime, suicide, accident, unknown or natural causes. Forensic pathologists write reports and testify in court regarding their findings. City, county or state governments commonly appoint forensic pathologists to positions of medical examiner or coroner.

Forensic pathologists must earn a bachelor's degree in any major and complete four years of medical school, earning either a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathy Medicine degree. After completing a medical degree, the potential forensic pathologist must complete four to five years of training in anatomic, clinical and/or forensic pathology. This training is followed by a year of residency or fellowship in forensic pathology. Pathologists can become certified through the American Board of Pathology after successfully passing the certification examination (www.aafs.org).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't list salary or employment outlook data for forensic pathologists; however, it does cover the broader category of surgeons and physicians. The BLS expected employment outlook for physicians to increase by 18% during the 2012-22 decade. The average salary for physicians and surgeons of various specialties was $189,760 per year, according to the BLS May 2014 salary report.

Forensic Odontologist

Forensic odontologists are specialized dentists who use dental science to identify unknown human remains, compare bite marks and conduct dental profiling using both physical and biological dental evidence. The forensic odontologist writes a report of the findings and must be prepared to testify about the conclusions in court.

Forensic odontologists must earn a bachelor's degree in any major and a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine to become a dentist. Extensive training in the methods and techniques used in forensic odontology can be obtained though attending professional development programs. Other training options include gaining hands-on experience while assisting a qualified professional. Forensic odontologists can obtain certification through the American Board of Forensic Odontology after gaining the requisite experience and passing the examination (www.abfo.org).

The BLS also doesn't have data specific to forensic odontologists, although it gives data for dentists. They could expect 16% job growth from 2012 to 2022, and the average salary was $168,580 for dentists of various specialties in 2014.

Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses are nurses with specialty training in forensic science. Forensic nurses are skilled in observation, documentation and preservation of evidence. Nurses collect evidence from perpetrators and survivors of violent crime and run toxicology tests. They also manage medical records, testify in court and provide comfort to crime victims. They specialize in fields such as trauma and sex-related crimes.

Forensic nurses must earn either an associate degree or bachelor's in nursing, obtain a registered nurse license and complete a certificate or degree program in forensic nursing. Nurses who specialize in sexual assault can earn credentials from the Forensic Nursing Certification Board to become sexual assault nurse examiners. This prepares nurses for work with adults, adolescents or pediatric victims. Nurse examiners become certified through meeting eligibility requirements and successfully completing an examination (www.iafn.com).

Like with dentists and physicians, the BLS doesn't have data specific to forensic nurses. Instead, it indicated that registered nurses could see 19% growth in employment from 2012-2022, while their average salary, according to the May 2014 BLS salary report, was $69,790.

Forensic Toxicologist

Forensic toxicologists assist in investigating crimes through identifying substances that may have contributed to a crime. Forensic toxicologists work in a laboratory setting and perform tests on bodily fluids and tissue samples collected by investigators. They use instruments, chemical reagents and specific methods to determine the absence or presence of substances.

Forensic toxicologists generally earn a bachelor's degree in chemistry, pharmacology or another physical science with coursework in chemistry and pharmacology. Some universities offer graduate programs in forensic toxicology leading to either a master's degree or doctorate. After several years of experience, forensic toxicologists can obtain professional certification through the American Board of Forensic Toxicology or the Forensic Toxicology Certification Board after passing the certification exam (www.aafs.org).

The BLS reports don't list forensic toxicologists; however, the BLS does track data for forensic science technicians, which is a related specialty. These professionals were expected to see employment grow 6% between 2012 and 2022. Their median salary was $58,610 as of May 2014, the BLS stated.

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