Forensic Pathologist Salary

What is a forensic pathologist?

Forensic Pathologist earningsThe word forensic means pertaining to a trial and pathology means any deviation from a normal or healthy condition. In the 1800’s the field of forensics was developed when people began to apply scientific methods to legal trails and criminal investigations.A forensic pathologist is the person who conducts a medical examination or autopsy on the corpse of someone who has met a sudden or violent death. If you are a fan of shows like NCIS, the character of Donald Mallard, aka Ducky, is an example of a forensic pathologist. In addition to studying the body they will also examine evidence like tissue samples, body fluids, etc that can help if it is a criminal investigation and possible court trial. This is a person who figures out the manner of death such as was it by suicide, murder, natural death, or accidental death, and the cause of death. You will find this job mainly in the law and justice system. Depending on where they work they may also be known as coroners, pathologists, or medical examiners. As you will be working on dead bodies if you are not comfortable with doing this, then being a forensic pathologist is not the career you should seek.

Job description of a forensic pathologist

The prime responsibility of being a forensic pathologist is to determine the manner and cause of death of a person and the way that this is accomplished is by doing an autopsy and running many medical tests on the corpse. You would be responsible for examining the physical evidence of the corpse in a morgue and/or laboratory. All of this may help to reveal how the person died. Even if appears evident that the person died from a gunshot wound or stabbing it is the job of the forensic pathologist to make sure that was the actual cause of death and not a covering for the real cause of death. For example a person could appear to be shot to death when in reality the person was actually poisoned and that is what they died from. The shotgun wound was a cover up.

When an autopsy is done you will be required to carry out various types of investigation which will require having knowledge of radiology, toxicology, and other fields of investigation. Many times the forensic pathologist will work with other medical professionals who will do the actual toxicology screenings from the samples the forensic pathologist provides for them. You may also be called into court as an expert witness for cases that are not natural deaths so you also need to have communication skills that are excellent.

How to become a forensic pathologist?

To become a forensic pathologist it will take at least thirteen to fourteen years that includes college, medical school, residency, and fellowship. When a person decides that they want a career as a forensic pathologist they will need to have either a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) who is like a traditional medical doctor but has received additional training in the musculoskeletal system of the body in order for them to know how to examine, diagnose, and treat a body as a whole and not treating a single symptom or illness, or a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). Both of these programs are offered at medical schools and will take four years in order to complete it and get your degree. To get into medical school it will usually require you to have a bachelor’s degree with science and math coursework.

If this is the field you want to pursue you should take as many math and science classes as you can while in high school. When you go to college it will normally take four years to get your bachelor’s degree if going full time. Once you have that bachelor’s degree you will need to apply for medical school for which admission is very competitive so you need to make sure that you have a very high grade point average and you score extremely well on the exams you are required to take to be admitted to medical school. While in medical school you will be able to rotate through several branches of medicine like pediatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics, and surgery.

Once you finish medical school it will be time to prepare for your forensic pathology career by completing a residency program with can take three to four more years and then you will have a twelve month fellowship in forensic pathology.   During residency you will get experience in diagnosing diseases, treating patients in a hospital setting, and clinical experience. But before you can get into a residency program you have to become a licensed physician which will require you to pass the state licensing exam. If you chose to become a Doctor of Osteopathy you will also have a twelve month internship before you can even begin residency but if you have a Doctor of Medicine you can start your residency after you pass the state exam.

During your residency you will learn about anatomical pathology and clinical pathology, which are requirements to become a forensic pathologist. After completing residency you are now ready to complete a twelve month fellowship in your career field of choice. The fellowship program is usually directed by the state or city Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. During these twelve months you will work beside a skilled forensic pathologist. You will be participating in death examinations, doing autopsies, and learning all there is to know about becoming a forensic pathologist. According to experts when you do this fellowship you should do it in a place that performs a minimum of two hundred to two hundred fifty autopsies a year. The final step in becoming a qualified forensic pathologist is to pass the exam given by the American Board of Pathology. It is not easy to pass this examination so it may take some time. It is also an expensive test.

The top three colleges that offer forensic pathology degrees are:

  • University of California, San Francisco, Department of Pathology—this is one of best institutions in forensic pathology. It also has operations base at a research campus at Mission Bay, San Francisco General Hospital & Trauma Center, Parnassus Heights, and the Mt. Zion campus.
  • The New York Medical Center—this institution has two residency training centers which are Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Center and Westchester Medical Center.   At either of these two residencies training centers the competition is very steep. On a yearly basis they only enroll nine students.
  • John Hopkins School of Medicine—this is the premier institute for studying medicine. The school offers courses on anatomic pathology with major focus on cytopathology, surgical pathology, and autopsy. The program is extensive and the students are given training on different clinical pathology fields.

Work environment and schedule

The work environment and schedule of a forensic pathologist will depend on where you are working. Basically you will be doing postmortems or autopsies to determine why someone died. This is usually done when it is not known why someone died and/or foul play is suspected. They will usually work closely with the medical examiner or coroner. But determining why someone died is not all that a forensic pathologist will do. Some of jobs they might do during the work shift could include:

  • Conducting various toxicology microscopic analysis to determine when the person died as this is a very important fact in a criminal investigation to narrow down suspects.
  • Examining wounds such as stab or bullet wounds and the tissues surrounding the wounds to identify if there are any trace metal or gunpowder particles to help identify the bullet caliber. In stab wounds they will try to determine the thickness and shape of the knife.
  • One of the most important duties of a forensic pathologist is to conduct photographic, serologic, toxicology, microbiologic, radiologic, and microscopic studies on the body.
  • Collecting any evidence like hair samples, tissue samples, and blood samples.
  • Reconstructing the sequence of the crime in order to understand how the person received the wounds or injuries.
  • Doing a lot of traveling to get to the scene of the deceased and also to secure the scene where the body is in case it is a criminal case.

A forensic pathologist may also be required to testify in court if it is a civil or criminal case. Their schedule will usually vary and most likely will not be a set schedule or a forty hour week. Again, depending on the job a forensic pathologist may be called out in the middle of the night, they may be required to do autopsies on bodies that have been in the water for long periods of time, been buried for days, even months, may even be called on to look at bones and try to determine if they are human or animal, female, or male, child or adult, etc and then try to reconstruct the body if there are enough bone found along with trying to find out the cause of death and if it was natural or criminal in nature. It is not a job that a person who is faint of heart would want to have nor would it be a job a person would want if they want a set schedule.

Pros and cons of being a forensic pathologist

A forensic pathologist job has its rewarding sides, including helping the families of decedents. It also offers the support one needs to find the truth and later on peace and at the same time be of great help to put criminals away. One of the pros is that each case will vary as well as the circumstances of each case and you’ve got the benefit of having an interesting and challenging job in which you’ll never get bored.

Another pro in this list is that for everything that you do you’ll earn a good salary. On the other hand, the con will be that you need to be tough on becoming a forensic pathologist. You need to have such a character, because you’ll have to examine the stomach content of many deceased people and at the same time identify the manner in which that person died. In addition, you’ll have to study many years to become one of these professionals. To be more exact, 13 to 15 years of college, residency and then a forensic pathology fellowship.

You’ll need to gain your right to practice this assumes that you have to have a board certificate this implying that you’ll have to pass an exam before you could work. This job, working as a forensic pathologist, is not one from nine to five. The hours of activity will vary according to the job description that will involve (among other things) having to testify in court, or even from time to time visiting the scene of a crime.

As soon as you understand the requirements, they will lead you straight to another con of working as a forensic pathologist: the fact that you’ll be exposed to many scenes of inhumane behavior. Still, if your passion is to discover the unexpected deaths or sudden ones then you have chosen a great career.

Forensic Pathologist job growth

The healthcare employment job rate shows a stable flux of job openings and opportunities remaining steady. There is plenty of job security since this branch is addressing public health and safety needs. The rate of growth of forensic scientists according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is projected to be at 18%-19%. With other words, the employment outlook for these professionals is very stable and good due also to the number of demanding that has a continuous growth.

The employment rate for these professionals has increased the most in states such as Florida, Illinois, and California. The need for these professionals is based on the factor of increased population and in the number of crimes that are committed. In many parts of the country, the rate of criminality is increasing this leading to an acute need for forensic pathologists. The forensic pathology investigating method is more used and is gaining more ground in the areas of sexual attacks.

Forensic pathologist salary

What a forensic pathologists’ salary would be varies and is determined by a number of factors like:

  • Type of employer they are working for
  • How many years experience they have working as a forensic pathologist
  • Their age
  • Where they are working such as rural, large city, medium city, federal, local, or state government and the state.
  • The work setting
  • Any specialized qualifications such as being a Board Certified Forensic Pathologist

On average a forensic pathologists’ salary in the United States is approximately $122,000 a year. The average hourly wage is between 73 to eighty-one dollars and twenty-five cents. A forensic pathology salary could be as high as one hundred ninety-nine thousand five hundred dollars a year with nineteen or more year’s experience. Just starting out a forensic pathologist could make as little as forty-two thousand four hundred twenty-two dollars a year. If you work for the federal government you could make between fifty nine thousand and two hundred eighteen thousand five hundred dollars a year. For those in local or state government you could make between forty-two thousand to one hundred fifty-four thousand dollars a year.

To make the most you can a year as a forensic pathologist work hard, gain experience, take courses in college to expand your education along with learning new techniques because with the expansion of technology things in the field of forensic science are becoming more technological and you need to be able to keep up with the trends. If you do not want to learn new things you will be stuck at the same job and same salary until you retire. If you are called up in the middle of the night to go out on a case do not grumble but do as you are told. This will show your employer that you are willing to go the extra mile without complaining which will get you more work. The more experience you have the better chance you will have to be asked to possibly work on high profile cases, which equal more money.

Salary of a forensic pathologist in 2015

Like in any other jobs, the salary of a forensic pathologist will vary. It will vary on the geographical area in which you are, the level of responsibilities that you have in this line, the facility in which you are working, and the years of gathered experience.

The salary of a forensic pathologist is approximately between $60,040 and can go up to $180,030 per year. You’ve got plenty of opportunities from which you can choose. For example, if the government hires you, then your bonuses can be good. If you are skilled on the witness stand, then you can probably become hired as one of the corps of elite expert witness that will take to another level of gaining a salary.

The salary will also vary according to each state, and the demand is still growing, so for a forensic pathologist the year 2015 can be a year of continuous opportunities. The salary will still depend on the number or factors mentioned earlier and also according to your developed skills in the educational process.

The economic flux is still in growth and the jobs for forensic pathologists may not be so many, but with the number of demanding this situation might change.

Forensic Pathologist Salary in 2016

The income of a forensic pathologist, for the year 2016, in the US is influenced by a variety of factors. Those that affect the earnings are based on the years of experience in the field, geographical location, industry and type of employer, set of skills and of course the area of specialty.

When it comes to the years of experience in the field, forensic pathologists with 1 or 2 years of experience can expect to take home around $169,010 per year while those in the field for more than 3 years can expect an estimated income of around $321,010 per year.

Finding a best forensic pathologist job can bring you to incomes estimated at around $610,010 per year. The best incomes according to the geographical factor for these professionals are gained in Huston, New York, and Los Angeles.

The average salary in the US, for these professionals, varies according to some of the sources and other influential factors such as the area of specialty and years of experience. An average income can be estimated at $190,010 per year or even higher. The starting salary for these professionals is estimated to be at around $80,010 per year. This case is applied if a forensic pathologist is employed by a government agency. In other cases such as being employed in a private crime lab, the income that is expected can exceed $80,010 per year.

The incomes also vary from state to state and from city to city, due also to the costs of living in that particular area and the living expenses. For instance the income that these professionals are earning in California is estimated to be around $176,010 per year while in New York, the average yearly income gets up to $197,010 per year.

When it comes to the cities, forensic pathologists that work in Dallas can expect a salary of around $159,010 per year while those that are based in San Francisco take home an income estimated at around $211,010 per year.

Forensic pathologist salary in Canada, Australia and UK

When looking at other places to work as a forensic pathologist you will see that working in the United States, Canada, and Australia the salaries are comparable but in the UK what you earn depends on your age.

  • Canada—just starting your career as a forensic pathologist you can earn between C fifty-one thousand to C sixty-four thousand a year but when you become a top forensic pathologist you can earn between C eighty thousand to C one hundred ninety-one thousand dollars a year.
  • Australia—on average the yearly salary is AU one hundred twenty thousand dollars.
  • UK—if you are in your twenties you can earn up to thirty-two thousand eight hundred thirteen dollars a year. When you are in your thirties you can earn about forty-two thousand eight hundred seventy-five dollars a year. When you are in your forties and fifties you can earn yearly about fifty thousand seven hundred fifty dollars.

Conclusion on forensic pathologist salary

The salary for a forensic pathologist may start out low in the United States and a little higher in Canada for beginners but once you get the experience, years, and specialized qualifications the salary can be as much as one hundred ninety-nine thousand a year. While the salary can be large it still takes a special person to be a forensic pathologist. There is also a lot of extra schooling that you must finish before you can become a Board Certified Forensic Pathologist and make a decent salary.

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  • First Published Date: 11 July, 2014
  • Last Updated Date: 20 August, 2016