Masters in Forensic Pathology: Degree Summary

Oct 10, 2019

Forensic pathology is the science of identifying a person's cause of death and, if necessary, identifying the body itself. A master's-level program in forensic science with a concentration in forensic pathology can prepare students for careers as forensic pathology teachers or researchers.

Essential Information

Master's degree programs are especially beneficial to those already employed in criminal justice or law enforcement, such as attorneys, laboratory technicians, and crime investigators, who want to add to their forensic skills and knowledge.

Most master's degree programs require a bachelor's degree in the field of biology, physical, behavioral or medical sciences, or another forensics-related field, along with a minimum undergraduate GPA. Applicants may also be asked to submit GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a written essay, an official undergraduate transcript, and a current resume. Some programs require Miller Analogies Test (MAT) scores, or several years of professional experience in a forensics-related field.

Master's Forensic Pathology Coursework

A master's degree program in forensic science with a concentration in forensic pathology provides students with a solid foundation of scientific knowledge in the field of autopsies and criminal science, so that they are prepared for a career in teaching or research. Students in this program are trained to collect evidence at a crime scene, distinguish and explain the characteristics that define each cause of death (homicide, suicide, natural causes, etc), and explain and define the procedures and principles of toxicology and DNA screenings. Other skills acquired include the ability to describe the different methods of identifying human remains and demonstrate and explain the procedures of forensic photography. Coursework blends the study of biology with criminal psychology and analysis. Common courses include:

  • Molecular biology and genetics
  • Forensic psychology
  • Statistics
  • Ethics
  • Evidence collection and analysis
  • Criminalistics
  • Scientific writing

Popular Careers

Graduates with a master's degree in forensic science and a concentration in forensic pathology are prepared for jobs in the research and teaching areas of forensics. Some of the most popular careers in this field include:

  • Laboratory technical specialist
  • Crime scene investigator
  • Forensic technician or scientist
  • Criminalist
  • Forensic engineer
  • Forensic chemist

Career and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicians and surgeons in general, the broader group to which forensic pathologists belong, earned a mean annual salary of $203,880 in May 2018. Salaries can vary depending on location and experience. The number of jobs for all physicians and surgeons was expected to increase by 7% from 2018-2028, the BLS predicted, which is faster than average.

Continuing Education

Medical licensure must be reapplied for every two years. This requires that professionals pass an exam, as well as complete and provide documentation of other requirements, such as peer reviews and proof of participation in at least one quality assurance or laboratory improvement program per year.

For individuals wishing to become full-fledged forensic pathologists or medical examiners, a 12- to 18-month residency program is required. Residency programs usually provide paid employment as students work alongside professionals in a city or state medical examiner's office and learn through observation and practical, hands-on experience. Once a residency program is completed, participants may take a licensing exam given by the American Board of Pathology. Forensic pathologists work to determine the cause of a person's death and to identify a body through DNA collection and other methods. Forensic pathologists often assist in court cases and crime investigations. Prerequisites for a residency program in forensic pathology include the completion of a medical degree (M.D.) and a 3- to 5-year medical residency. Medical school graduates must be board certified, or eligible for board certification in anatomic pathology or anatomic and clinical pathology.

Students interested in forensic pathology will most often earn a master's in forensic science to work in research or teaching areas of forensics. Aspiring forensic pathologists will also need to complete a residency program and obtain medical licensure.

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