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Forensic Pathologist: Education Requirements and Career Information

Forensic pathology requires significant formal education. Learn about the training, job duties, licensure and certification to see if this is the right career for you.

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To be a forensic pathologist it is necessary to become a medical doctor or Doctor of Osteopathy. Typically, after completing a bachelor's degree one completes medical school and a pathology residency, followed by a forensic pathology fellowship. Forensic pathologists must also have their medical license and be certified in pathology.

Essential Information

Forensic pathologists are medical doctors who perform autopsies on deceased individuals to determine the cause of death. Becoming a forensic pathologist requires significant postgraduate education. After earning a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree in medical school, one must complete a residency in pathology followed by a fellowship in forensic pathology. State licensure is required in order to practice, and board certification is required by most employers.

Required Education Prerequisite college courses (2-4 years)
Medical school (4 years)
Pathology residency (3-4 years)
Forensic pathology fellowship (1-2 years)
Licensure & Certification State medical license required
Board certification in pathology required and must be renewed every 10 years
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 14% for all physicians and surgeons
Mean Salary (2015)* $197,700 for physicians and surgeons, all other

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Forensic Pathologist Education Requirements

Medical School

Forensic pathologists are required to obtain either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. These programs are offered at medical schools and take four years to complete. Medical school admission is competitive and the vast majority of matriculating medical students have bachelor's degrees in addition to the prerequisite college courses.

Medical students typically study anatomy, physiology, microbiology and medical law. During supervised rotations in a healthcare setting, advanced medical students diagnose acute and chronic diseases and deliver rehabilitative and preventative care directly to patients. Students may rotate through several facets of medicine, gaining experience in a variety of practices, such as internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery and obstetrics.

Residency Programs

Preparation for a career in forensic pathology continues after medical school with residency programs, which usually last 3-4 years. Residencies provide beginning physicians with clinical experience in diagnosing disease and treating patients.

Before entering residencies, training medical professionals must become licensed physicians by passing a state licensing exam. D.O.'s typically complete one-year internships before beginning residency training; however, M.D.'s usually begin residencies directly after medical school.

Forensic Pathology Fellowships

After completion of a residency, doctors must also complete one-year fellowships in forensic pathology in order to specialize. Fellowship programs are typically directed by the city or state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. During fellowship training, fellows work beside skilled forensic pathologists, performing autopsies and participating in death investigations.

Forensic Pathologist Career Information

Salary and Employment Outlook

According to 2015 salary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual salary for physicians and surgeons, all other, a group which includes all types of pathologists including forensic pathologists, was $197,700. The BLS projects that jobs for physicians in general will increase 14% from 2014-2024. This prediction is attributed to healthcare expansion and an increase in the elderly population, although it is expected to be partially offset by advancing technology and a reduction in duties performed solely by physicians.

Certification

Forensic pathologists must be certified by the American Board of Pathology to practice in the profession. To be eligible for certification, candidates must hold a medical degree and have completed residency and fellowship training. The certification process involves successful completion of a primary exam in anatomic and clinical pathology and a specialty exam in forensic pathology. These exams consist of written questions and practical applications. Forensic pathologists must maintain certification every ten years by passing a recertification exam and earning Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit.

Forensic pathologists perform autopsies to determine the cause of death. They are required to be medical doctors and undergo extensive training in their field before they can be certified. Forensic pathologists must renew their certification every ten years.

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