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Forensic Pathology Certification and Training Program Information

Individuals who wish to become certified forensic pathologists must earn the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) certification in pathology with a sub-specialty in forensic pathology.

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Essential Information

Requirements for ABMS certification include having a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree from an accredited medical school, completing residency and fellowship programs in pathology or forensic pathology, and passing an exam. A forensic pathology residency in a hospital or other clinical setting typically takes 3-5 years to complete. These programs prepare medical doctors for the primary exam and a fellowship in forensic pathology.

The fellowship allows students to focus more on forensic pathology after completing their residency. During this 1-year program, students learn how to perform autopsies and determine causes of death while preparing for their certification exam. They are prepared to investigate deaths resulting from natural and traumatic causes, and they develop practical skills in forensic pathology under the supervision of board-certified practitioners and investigators.


Pathology Residency

Medical school graduates interested in training and certification in forensic pathology must complete a residency in anatomic pathology (AP) or clinical pathology (CP). Doctors desiring certification in both programs may pursue a combined AP/CP program to reduce the amount of time in residency. Anatomic pathology programs provide residents with the conceptual and practical training in a broad range of diagnostic techniques. Clinical pathology programs provide doctors with laboratory skills to correctly order and interpret test results and to advise clinicians about these results so the appropriate treatment can be made.

To apply for a residency program in pathology, individuals must be a licensed medical doctor or a doctor of osteopathic medicine. Other requirements may include letters of recommendation from the applicant's medical school.

The AP/CP programs provide doctors with various clinical rotations that give them an opportunity to consider which subspecialty to pursue. Forensic pathologists typically perform autopsies so individuals should be interested in this work. Examples of rotations include:

  • Autopsy
  • Clinical chemistry
  • Forensic pathology
  • Hematology
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular diagnostics

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Forensic Pathology Fellowship

Fellowships in forensic pathology take about a year to complete and require fellows to perform about 250 autopsies. Many necessary skills are acquired through lab work in clinical chemistry, histology, toxicology and microbiology. They may also participate in investigations at the scene of the death.

Candidates applying for fellowships must complete the AP or combined AP/CP training. They must be licensed as a medical doctor in the state where the medical school is located. Other requirements may include a curriculum vitae, letters of recommendation and a statement of interest.

There are no traditional courses in the fellowship. Fellows are expected to manage their caseloads and to facilitate their education through the resources available. These include reviews of autopsy and investigative reports, consultations with doctors in other subspecialties, in-house conferences, labs and computer work.


Popular Career Options

Pathologists with AP/CP certification may work in hospitals, where they support the continuing education of staff doctors and play a key role in clinical decisions. Careers may be found at:

  • Medical schools
  • Professional societies
  • Research organizations
  • Government agencies
  • Pharmaceutical companies

Job Outlook and Salary

Forensic pathologists have numerous employment opportunities. They may work as medical examiners or work in a medical examiner's office. Forensic pathologists may perform autopsies as consultants to medical examiners and coroners. According to 'Salary.com,' the median annual income of physician-pathologists was $254,720 in September 2016.

Continuing Education and Certification

The American Board of Pathology grants primary and subspecialty certifications in forensic pathology. Applicants must pass the primary exam before taking the subspecialty exam. A summary of key certification requirements includes medical school and training program accreditation as well as licensure.

Primary or subspecialty certification exam applicants must have graduated from a school accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education for U.S. or Canadian schools, by the Bureau of Professional Education of the American Osteopathic Association or by a foreign school accepted to the ABP. Exam applicants must have trained in a U.S. or Canadian program. In the U.S., these programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

Overall, becoming a certified forensic pathologist requires a considerable educational background. This certificate is only available to M.D.s who have gained real-world experience through residency and fellowship programs, and then passed an exam demonstrating their knowledge and preparedness for work.

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