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How can I Become a Forensic Pathologist?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A growing interest in criminal investigation among the general public has led to a larger number of individuals who are interested in becoming a forensic pathologist or medical examiner, and studying bodies to determine their cause of death. Forensic pathology is part of the larger pathology discipline. Pathologists analyze blood, fluid, and tissue samples, look at tumors and other abnormal growths removed from the human body, and sometimes may choose to specialize in autopsies and body examination. The career is challenging, but rewarding, but be warned: most practicing medical examiners suggest that the primary requirement for the job is a strong stomach.

If you are interested in becoming a forensic pathologist and you are in high school, focus on getting a well-rounded science education. You may also choose to take foreign language electives, and classes about other cultures, so that you will have a better understanding of your patients. In college, try to get a well balanced education that includes humanities and science classes, and if you can, take some psychology. In addition to working with bodies, a pathologist must also be able to interact confidently with the public and in court, so getting a well rounded education is an excellent idea.

Some pathologists specialize in autopsy.
Some pathologists specialize in autopsy.

When planning for this career, plan on taking anatomy, pathology, and physiology in your four years of medical school. You may also be eligible to take forensic pathology electives at some schools, especially those that have forensic anthropology departments. If you can, work at least briefly as an intern in the office of a forensic pathologist, so that you can see if the work environment is right for you. Plan on spending another four years as an intern after medical school, during which you will learn about analyzing tissue samples, how to handle ethical issues which will arise, and how to testify in court. After a brief forensic internship and board exams, you will be able to practice.

Forensic pathologists dust for fingerprints.
Forensic pathologists dust for fingerprints.

In urban areas, you will probably spend most of your time in the lab, as part of a forensic pathology team. In more rural regions, you may also go out on site to certify that a victim is dead and collect the body. Many sparsely populated areas have a one person coroner's office, and as the professional on staff, you will handle collection and autopsy procedures, as well as court testimony, for all suspicious deaths in the region. You may also be required to travel to various sites as part of your job, so be prepared for a lot of time on the road.

Forensic pathologists test blood samples.
Forensic pathologists test blood samples.

As part of the job, you will examine bodies in a wide range of conditions, from fresh murder victims to decomposed bodies. You must have a sharp eye for observation, as small details can be very important, along with a willingness to deal with stressful and unpleasant situations. In addition, you must have excellent people skills, as you will be supervising an office staff, dealing with distraught members of the public, and testifying in court.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Is there any scope for forensic pathology in India? If yes, which are the preferred colleges here?


I'm twelve and I'm trying to find a forensic pathology website where I can join for free, but I can't find one because there isn't one for forensic pathology. Any suggestions? I don't expect my question to be answered directly but any help is appreciated.


I'm in middle school and I really want to be a forensic pathologist. I think it would be an awesome job, maybe sad or something.

But like how many years in college will it take? And do grades matter? And if they do, what are the lowest they'll accept? I have watched all the shows about it and I look forward to getting into the "u of m," so...?


Well, right now, I'm in college taking up biochemistry, because they don't have forensic pathology classes by themselves. I was wondering, do I have to still go to medical school? How can I get and internship with people in Washington area?


I'm sorry, but to the people asking these questions, if you're really posting on a message board waiting for someone to specifically respond to your individual request for information on "how to become a forensic pathologist" because you're too lazy to go out there and research it yourself, do you really think you are capable of attaining a bachelor's degree, getting into medical school, getting an MD, and accomplishing a residency, fellowship, passing board examinations, and becoming a forensic pathologist? Post 22 is right. If you're dead set on cutting up bodies for a living because you saw it on TV think again. If you think you're smart go find out for yourself.


the most recent episode of frontline (PBS) is about the issues in the death investigation system in america, specifically. it's an incredible episode, because it highlights all the many things that go wrong with this industry that, i think, should be one of the more important government institutions, since people are prosecuted and sent to prison based on the conclusions drawn by coroners. not every state has crap for regulations, but unfortunately, most of them do.

now don't get the wrong idea, this show is not talking crap about forensic pathologists whatsoever. basically, with a few individual exceptions, they pretty much paint the f.p.'s as the good guys in the death investigation industry. like any industry, you're going to have a few bad apples, but basically the problem is a complete and utter lack of any sort of national regulation.

in most places in the US, coroners (the people who interpret the results from autopsies) are elected officials. more often than not, they're basically politicians.

recently (this was in the show) in (i can't remember --sorry-- if it's south or north) carolina, they passed a law upping the requirements to be a coroner. this brand new law now requires that in order to be a coroner, you now have to have a high school diploma! as in, previous to this law passing, it was not required that the person deciding whether you were murdered or not had graduated from high school!

this industry needs to be turned on it's head, and we need regulations. innocent people are sent to prison, families going through the death of a member are often put through unnecessary hell, and for lack of better wording, the way we're doing this is more often than not Just plain wrong.

Anyhow, everyone should check out this episode of frontline. it's enlightening for those of us not aware of the situation we live in.


I definitely agree with post 22, because it takes a lot to become anything in the medical field. If you can't read that simple passage above, what makes you think you can perform an autopsy or anything of that nature?

Well, if you do want to become a Forensic Pathologist or a Medical Examiner, it takes years of schooling in college, and unless you start in high school, there's a long way ahead for you.


The heck? Power to you anonymous post number 22. I really do hope that those who cannot even read the entire article here do not end up becoming a forensic pathologist.

I have graduated in all sciences and mathematics from college and this article has given me the information in determining what courses to take in medical school.

Naturally, further specifics will need to be organized with the schools student advisor to be sure the course is the right one, as each school in different states and around the world would be different.


what classes do you have to take to become a forensic pathologist?


I'm a 7th grader and i want to be a forensic pathologist. I love doing this stuff but i would like some tips and suggestions on doing this. although my classmates say it's gross, i don't care. i love it. Any tips?


i want to become a forensic pathologist and i am only in the 9th grade but i know all about it. i look at how to become one each and every day, but as i learn i will be the best. I am not rich. i am only 14 years old and black. i will do what i have to do to reach my goal.


I have wanted to be a forensic pathologist for four years and I have just entered my senior year of high school. My school has none of the classes or no challenging science classes. My city has no intern positions for people my age. would it take longer or be harder for me to become a pathologist.


I would like to be a pathologist and would like to know what are the subjects.


Why are there so many people who clearly do not understand the educational requirements and keep asking the same questions as if they have not read the above description?

If you cannot read a simple passage from the internet and integrate that into an understanding of what it takes to become a pathologist, do you really think you are capable of becoming a doctor?


I am finished with high school and the only science i did was biology. Is it possible to still pursue a career as a forensic pathologist? If so what are the necessary steps?


Iim a senior graduating from high school and i know that i want to go into the field of a forensic pathologist as an "app", but I'm not sure what college to go or what to study while I'm there.


No: you must, must, must go to medical school and obtain a degree in medicine before applying to become a forensic pathologist.

There are no nursing transfers. There are no undergraduate courses which you can transfer from. If you have done a degree, this will only help you in trying to get a place in medical school.

All and every pathologist is a doctor of medicine. Unfortunately there are absolutely no exceptions.


i am currently in college studying forensic science and got my bs in science for my gcse's and i was wondering after my two year course at college what to do to become a forensic pathologist?


I am in high school, doing humanities. how do i get to med school. can a BS in mortuary science help??


it takes roughly 13 years to become a forensics pathologist.


Can a forensic pathologist have facial hair or long hair? If so do they have to wear a net?


I'm in high school at the moment, and i have just chosen my options but I'm still not sure on what pathway i need to take before i reach an area in pathology? Also is true that you have to become a doctor, dentist or vet to then become a type of pathologist?


One of my friends graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in nursing. She had decided a little late in the game that her passion was in forensic science, but is a bit hesitant because she started so late.

I was wondering how many courses could be transferred over to Forensic Pathology with a nursing degree. Will she have to take a whole new set of undergraduate classes and if so, how long will they take?


are there forensic pathology courses in india?


im a pathology resident. i will do a forensic fellowship in about a year. You need four years of college, then four years of med school. the way things have been, a lot of people get a masters or do a post baccalaureate before med school. that's another 1-2 years. then there is med school itself, four years, and not an easy four years either. after that you've got four years in an ap/cp pathology residency and another year in the forensic fellowship. i won't be a forensic pathologist until i'm 33 years old.


what are the legal courses available for the pg forensic students from india and where and will it be useful and who are the employment providers. --nanas


So, how many years does it take, exactly, to actually become a "Forensic Pathologist?" Is that the same as a Coroner and/or Medical Examiner?


I have graduated in Microbiology as my Major.

Currently doing my Msc in same. Do I have any chance to stand? -- Roshan


All the pathologists that I have known are M.D.'s, but I have never known one who wore a stethoscope. --Donald W. Bales, M.D. (since 1946-retired 1997)


I didn't take science subjects in school, so how do I become a forensic pathologist now? Where do I begin?

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