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Forensic Toxicologist: Education Requirements and Career Information

Sep 21, 2019

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

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Forensic toxicologists are an important part of the modern criminal justice system. A background in biology and/or chemistry is essential for this field. The minimum educational requirement is a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as chemistry, or in the general field of forensic science.

Essential Information

Forensic toxicologists work with law enforcement agencies to analyze crime scene evidence, such as determining if any poisons or drugs are found in biological fluids or human tissues collected at crime scenes. This can lead to discovering the methods used in the commission of a crime and identifying evidence for use in court cases. Other jobs for forensic toxicologists might be in research or product safety evaluation. Prospective forensic toxicologists usually need a bachelor's degree in a related field for entry-level employment, but some positions require graduate study.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in forensic science, chemistry or biology; some jobs require a graduate degree
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 14% (for forensic science technicians)
Median Salary (2018)* $58,230 (for forensic science technicians)

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

Education Requirements

In general, forensic toxicologists have a bachelor's degree in the natural sciences, like chemistry or biology, or in forensic science. Coursework in math, human medicine, pharmacology or veterinary medicine also could be relevant in this field. A graduate degree program in toxicology explores the principles of toxicology, biological chemistry, cellular physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology and analytic chemistry. Doctorate programs take 2-3 years to complete and include a dissertation and final thesis project.

Career Information

Forensic toxicologists analyze human tissue and biological fluids. By using knowledge of chemistry and biology, specific agents can be isolated and identified through examination. Additionally, the research performed by a forensic toxicologist allows him or her to understand the harmful effect of chemicals on the environment and people.

The government and other law enforcement agencies employ forensic toxicologists to aid in catching criminals. For example, a forensic toxicologist is called in whenever poison or drugs are a possible cause of death. A forensic toxicologist is able to determine what was used in the crime, as well as possibly narrow down locations of the drug in the area. This can lead to creating leads for law enforcement to pursue or helping prove the guilt and involvement of a criminal.

In addition to law enforcement opportunities, forensic toxicologists might enter into teaching positions, as well as work in research roles to help discover new information about toxic substances for forensic use. A forensic toxicologist might work in product safety evaluation. A career in product safety allows forensic toxicologists to determine the safety of chemicals and any danger they might pose to humans, animals and the environment.

Job Prospects and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of jobs for forensic science technicians - some of whom work in labs practicing toxicology - is expected to increase 14% from 2018-2028 (www.bls.gov). The agency reported that the median salary for forensic science technicians was $58,230 in 2018.

Forensic toxicologists must be familiar with the chemistry and physiology of the human body and may be exposed to communicable diseases during work. As forensic science is constantly evolving, further training and education may be required from time to time to stay up to date with modern forensic methods.

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