Using analytical chemistry, pharmacology, and clinical chemistry to investigate the legal and medical aspects in a death investigation is the job of a forensic toxicologist. In a death from poisoning or drug use, the toxicologist is focused on the technology and techniques used to obtain and interpret scientific results. The resolution of the legal case is not his or her primary concern.
Physical symptoms, if known, are recorded and any evidence such as powders, trace residue, chemicals, or pill bottles collected at the scene is examined. The forensic toxicologist is charged with determining whether toxic substances are present in the body, at what concentrations, and what effect they had on the person.
Other potential careers might be testing of animal remains for wildlife agencies, testing for performance enhancing drugs in sports, or performing drug testing for employees or law enforcement.
Forensic Toxicologist Career Requirements
Forensic Toxicology is a constantly changing field with new developments and techniques occurring frequently. That means you need the willingness to continue to learn throughout your career and to adapt to new testing methods and procedures as needed.
The tests performed in this discipline require good motor skills and a commitment to exacting scientific protocol. You will be working with bodily fluids and tissue which is often messy and doesn’t smell great either.
You will need a bachelor’s degree in either pharmacology, chemistry, clinical chemistry or a related scientific field from a college or university accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Science. In recent years, a few universities have begun offering Master’s and Ph.D. programs in Forensic Toxicology. At this time, advanced degrees are required by only a few employers but those pursuing graduate and post-graduate degrees will be well positioned to move ahead in this rapidly expanding science.
Those with years of hands-on field experience may be certified by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT), the American Board of Clinical Chemistry and the American Board of Toxicology.
Forensic Toxicologist Education and Training
You will be using your knowledge in chemistry, biology, physics, and math as a forensic toxicologist. Working knowledge in those disciplines is required to begin your career and the practical applications on the job will provide additional skills.
A large portion of on the job training is learning to work in a controlled and prioritized way. At times the workload can be significant when samples arrive from a crime scene and the toxicologist may feel pressure to rush through the tests. Part of the training is learning to work at an efficient pace and to prioritize to produce accurate results.
Forensic Toxicologist Salary
The average salary for a forensic toxicologist is about $75,000 annually but will vary depending on location, type of industry, difficulty level of work projects, and experience in the field. Seasoned toxicologists and laboratory directors command salaries of $100,000 or more while newly hired toxicologists may begin their career at salaries in the $60,000 range.
Forensic Toxicologist Career Opportunities
You may immediately think of crime scene investigations when you consider becoming a forensic toxicologist. If you like solving mysteries and conducting chemical protocols, as well as using sophisticated instrumentation, criminal investigation may be for you.
For those who prefer a lower stress level testing of job applicants for employers, working in the field of sports drug testing, or working with animals in testing for environmental hazards or race horse doping are viable alternatives.
Take a look at other great Criminal Justice Careers.