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.
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.
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.
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.