What is Forensic Pathology | Forensic Pathologist Career Guide

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Forensic pathology is one of the branches of pathology that focuses and concludes the cause of death of an individual by examining a corpse. Forensic pathology usually helps during the investigation of criminal law cases and civil law cases in some jurisdictions.

The Forensic report is also called a postmortem report or autopsy report, which is made after a medical examination of the dead body.

Who is a Forensic pathologist?

The Forensic pathologist is a subspecialist in pathology, who work competently in the examination of individuals who died suddenly, unexpectedly, violently, or murderously. The Forensic pathologist is an expert in determining the cause and manner of death.

 The Forensic pathologist is a specially trained person in performing;

  • Autopsies to identify the presence or absence of disease, injury, poisoning.
  • To evaluate historical and law enforcement investigation information Relating to the manner of death.
  • To collect medical evidence, like trace, secretions, and marks.
  • To document sexual assault.
  • To rebuild how a person received an injury and how death occurs.

The Forensic pathologist is trained and specialized in multiple forensic sciences and traditional medicine too. The forensic pathologist also has working knowledge in other areas of science including toxicology, firearms examination, trace evidence, forensic serology, and DNA technology.

When Forensic pathologists working as a death investigator they bring their expertise to bear upon the evaluation of the science of death, in the estimation of the time of death, the consistency of the witness’s statement with injury, and finding of injury pattern.

In jurisdictions, Forensic pathologists are employed to perform autopsies to evaluate and identify the cause and manner of death. 

What does a Forensic pathologist do?

The Forensic pathologist is the medical doctor who specializes in examination and investigation of sudden, unexpected, murder, or violent death.  The Forensic pathologist attempts all way to determine the identification of the dead victim, the time of death, the manner or type of death (natural, accident, suicide, or homicide), the cause of death, and if the death seems murdered than nature and type of instrument used to cause death.

First, the Forensic pathologist collects all the history regarding medical, witness statements of how the death occurred.  Next, the Forensic pathologist examines the victim’s dead body externally and internally,  taking small samples of tissues for microscopic examination for any abnormal changes that are not visible to the naked eye. This postmortem examination is commonly known as an autopsy.  

For autopsy reports, many laboratory tests may be undertaken, including x-ray, fluid samples such as blood and urine, small samples of tissue for analysis, and culture of body fluid and organ for evidence of infection or toxicity. 

How to become a forensic pathologist?

After attending a 4- year undergraduate course from high school, the candidate will need to complete a 4-years bachelor’s degree in M.D or D.O. degree, where they spend 2years in class, learning clinical work, and study for an exam. And in the last two years, they complete supervised clinical rotations in internal medicine, surgical, obstetrics, and other types of medical settings. 

After graduation, the student will need to obtain a pathology residency or fellowship for at least 3-5 years in general pathology, where they can learn and practice practical experience supervised by a trained pathologist. And 1-year special training in forensic pathology. The forensic resident can perform autopsies and participate in death investigations.

To get a license in forensic pathology, the student must give a three steps examination. and for the certificate, one must pass the exam given by the American Board of Pathology in general pathology, and then they may pursue a subspecialty certificate in forensic pathology.

Other than education, the forensic pathologist must possess some skills like;

  • Good communication skills.
  • A flexible approach to work.
  • The ability to cope under pressure. 

How long it takes to become a forensic pathologist:

It takes a minimum of 13-15 years of education and training after high school to become a competent forensic pathologist.

Forensic Pathologist job description:

Forensic pathologist job description includes;

  • A person can conduct an autopsy on dead bodies to determine the cause of death.
  • A person can work for the crime branch or with local police to help them in criminal cases.
  • A person can write a brief note on new findings and clues to work their way up to the cause of death.
  • A person must fulfill duty includes helping in the investigation of murders etc and evaluating the autopsy findings.
  • A person also possesses the quality of applying knowledge of toxicology, trace evidence, and DNA technology.

A forensic pathologist must be attentive, observant, brave, courageous, and must possess excellent oral and written communication skills. 

Forensic pathologist salary:

The forensic pathologist salaries vary according to their skills, education, and state. 

The average annual salaries of forensic pathologists;

  • In New York is $ 103,753- $ 157, 138.
  • In Washington is $ 154,567
  • In California is  $140,841
  • In texas is $ 126,936

 In Pakistan, the average base salary of a forensic pathologist is PKR. 5,258,624/ year. While the average entry-level salary with 1-3 year experience is  Rs. 3,555,767 and senior-level pathologists with 8+ years experience earns an average salary of Rs. 7,095,224.    

University for Forensic pathology:

There are several universities and medical school that offer forensic pathology fellowships are;

  • University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
  • The University of Washington in Seattle
  • The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor
  • University of Texas Southwestern Medical School
  • Saint Louis University
  • University of Alabama, BirminghamIndiana 
  • University of New Mexico
  • Emory University

In Pakistan, 6 universities are offering MPhil Forensic medicine are;

  • King Edward Medical University / Mio Hospital in Lahore
  • Liaquat University Of Medical Health Sciences in Jamshoro
  • University Of Health Sciences in Lahore
  • Gandhara University in Peshawar
  • Kabir Medical College in Peshawar
  • Peshawar Medical And Dental College in Peshawar
  • Bahria University Medical and Dental College in Islamabad

Forensic pathology course overview:

List of common courses include;

  • Forensic Pathology and Medico-legal Investigation Course
  • Homicide Investigation Course
  • Forensic Photography Course
  • Forensic Firearms Identification Course
  • Forensic Anthropology Course
  • Biological Evidence Analysis Course

Here some common concepts that forensic pathology students may encounter in their courses are;

  • Cybercrime
  • Fingerprint analysis
  • Digital analysis
  • Criminal procedure
  • Microscopy
  • Social relations
  • Bloodstain pattern analysis

Importance of forensic pathology:

Forensic pathology is becoming more important because the crime rate is increasing, and judicial and court systems are relying more on evidence and the conclusion of the forensic pathology reports

Forensic pathology is also important because it helps in finding a cure and vaccine for many diseases by finding out how exactly the infected person may have died. And this is done by examination of the body at autopsy, removing tissue for examination and analysis of fluid from the body helps to determine the cause of death.

Team of Forensic pathology consists of:

Forensic pathology is the wide field, whose team not only consists of a forensic pathologist but also a forensic pathologist assistant, forensic pathology nurse.

Forensic pathologist Assistant:

Forensic pathologist assistant helps and assists the forensic pathologist with the procedure before, during, and after the postmortem examination, which includes preparing the cadaver, and cutting and collecting the samples of tissue, hair, blood, or bodily fluid. Forensic pathologist assistant also has many administrative duties, like help in preparing reports, ordering supplies, or training staff.

To become a Forensic pathologist assistant, the student must have completed an undergraduate program in the science field, leading to a bachelor’s degree. And got a master’s degree in pathologist assistant program accredited by National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratories Sciences (NAACLS). It is a two years program in which first-year students spend their time taking medical courses to include medical terminology, pathology, anatomy, histology, and management. And the second year, they serve clinical fieldwork.

 There are 14 % chances of increasing job growth from 2018-2028.

Forensic nurse:

A forensic nurse is a cross-bridge between a healthcare professional and the judicial system profession. The forensic nurse helps the forensic pathologist and performs more specialized than nurses typically perform, because they have a variety of roles, such as evaluating and caring for victims of assault, domestic abuse, and sexual crime.  The forensic nurse also helps to testify in court about the medical information and evidence they have collected.

To become a forensic nurse, the student has to earn a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree in nursing and get a master’s degree in forensic nursing. Take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam and become a registered nurse in your state. 

Forensic pathology nurses usually work in hospitals, schools, jails, clinics, tissue -organ donation departments, and are often on call for law enforcement, or can work in the emergency room and may collect evidence like bullets, clothes, photographs, and documented victims’ injury that may help in the investigation.


To become a forensic pathologist is not an easy job, and it also takes a strong stomach because it can be a gruesome, smelly, and disgusting job. It also needs a lot of confidence to defend your conclusion in front of opposition from lawyers, media, and victim’s families.

Forensic pathology is an expanding field that opens new doors for new students to work in a variety of specializations.