Forensic pathology has become a popular career in recent years because of television shows, books and movies with glamorous actors solving murder mysteries while dodging bullets. In real life, the job usually isn't that dangerous but instead requires many years of training to aid the legal system with determining death in suspicious cases. Mostly, they gather evidence, do autopsies and work very hard to determine the cause of death in the deceased.
Forensic pathology is defined as the medical science of determining a cause of death. Pathologists serve their community by determining the manner and cause of death, especially if it was done in the commission of a crime. There are two main kinds of pathology that forensic pathologist draw on to do their jobs. These forms are anatomic pathology and clinical pathology. This is what helps the pathologist to reach their goal.
The purpose of forensic pathology is to determine the cause and manner of death of a deceased person. The cause can be natural or unnatural. They also decide if a death warrants an autopsy or just a mere examination. The forensic pathologist then compiles all of this information and turns it over to law enforcement or even at times insurance companies to help with a claim.
Also known as medical examiners, forensic pathologists are physicians with special training to examine dead bodies of people who died unexpectedly or violently. In many states, in certain types of deaths, it is legally required for a forensic pathologist to perform an autopsy and make determinations about how the person died what their drug or alcohol blood level was and attempt to determine a cause of death. In addition to performing an autopsy, forensic pathologists will study a dead person's medical history along with the scene where the body was found. The doctor will collect evidence from the body and listen to witness statements. The forensic pathologist's time is split between acquiring information from police officers, performing autopsies and testifying in court.
A career in forensic pathology requires 13 to 15 years of school and training. First, a four-year bachelor's degree must be obtained, and then four years of medical school must be successfully completed. After earning a medical degree, an aspiring forensic pathologist must take four to five years of a residency in anatomic pathology and clinical pathology. Successful completion of a residency will make the doctor eligible for pathology board exams. After passing board exams, the pathologist may take a one- to two-year fellowship to explore a forensic subspecialty.
Forensic pathologist fellows make about $26,000 annually. Once passing the board exams, forensic pathologists make $60,000 to $180,000. Forensic pathologists often work for city, county, state and federal governmental agencies. Others may work in medical schools and hospitals. The workday can be long, from 10 to 12 hours when working on a case. Travel may be required to examine a death scene.
Forensic pathology is very seldom as it is portrayed on television. While the pathologist on television can pinpoint the exact time of death to the letter, it is impossible to do so in real life. It is true however; those pathologists are often called upon to testify in court.