Forensic Toxicologist Career, Salary and Training Info

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.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

30 comments… add one
  • jessica

    how much physics would be involved, would it be necessary to take take physics in high school to be a forensic toxicologist? thanks

    • Radek M. Gadek

      The number of physics courses in college depends on the degree track you choose, the school you attend, and other factors. I don’t think that it is a necessity for high school students to take physics – at least not in the U.S. – however, I would take some chemistry classes if possible. The best track would be to speak with your teachers about your career aspirations and see if they can recommend a good set of class options.

  • Josh

    To become a toxicologist, what universities do you recommend going to? And which field of toxicology pays the highest: working in a crime lab, sports drug testing, or animal testing?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      If you asked me what criminal justice universities I recommend then I could sing, sing, sing. My expertise lies in criminal justice academia, and toxicology is a totally different “animal.” Even though toxicology can be applied to the criminal justice field, you will be looking in the sciences sector to look for the right school for you. To get you going, I recommend usnews.com to see rankings for schools that are on a track to providing you an opportunity to become a toxicologist.

      As for the field of toxicology which pays the best… all fields mentioned pay very well, BUT only if you have the education and experience to back it up. Advanced degrees, like a Master’s, PhD, or MD, can do wonders to the type of salary you will get across the private and public sectors. It goes without saying that those with experience and training can command their own pay in consulting for various law enforcement agencies, crime labs, sports drug testing organizations, and other agencies.

  • Genny Claro

    I’m already taking AP Chemistry and AP Calculus, and I plan on taking physic and maybe AP Biology next year. I was wondering if there is anything extra I could do now that I’m still in high school like seminars or internships.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I can tell you that you look to be pretty well stacked with the classes you’re taking. Seminars and internships look great on a college application and usually solidify your commitment to a specific degree path. The admission committee always looks for those extra efforts when making their decision to accept or refuse admittance to the program.

  • sara

    Hello, I’m graduating with a B.S in chemistry this december and i wanted to apply to graduate school to pursue a career in forensic toxicology, i found a program in university of Florida they seem to have a descent program, what other colleges do you recommend? also i wanted to go for a PHD program and UF only offers a masters in forensic toxicology. thank you

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Sara,

      I am not an expert on Forensic Toxicology nor am I an expert on programming related to Toxicology. I do know, however, that University of Florida is a top notch academic institution. I would venture into forums and websites that are on point with Forensic Toxicology and get more info there. Here’s a good start: http://www.aafs.org/ – check out the RESOURCES –> STUDENTS section for listings of colleges and universities. Hope this helps.

  • nikola

    if you a not particularly good at chemistry. but already has an andrew’s university degree with a bachelors of science in biology and a minor in chemistry and wants to get into forensic toxicology. do u still recommend going into the field?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Nikola,

      If you are highly interested in Forensic Toxicology then I do recommend going into the field with your qualifications. I think there are things you will learn “on the job” that will help you understand certain concepts in chemistry a little bit better. Pursue what you love.

      Good luck.

  • Rayan

    I’m graduating from high school soon . I’m in Lebanon where they teach chemistry, physics and biology from the 7th grade. I find my grades well and I’ve been dreaming to become a forensic toxicologist. The problem is if i go to any colleges/universities here i don’t have any opportunity to be it. I was thinking of returning back to America but after doing 4 years of college in Lebanon. What do you think? Will it work out till i return to America and continue to get a PhD or MD? What courses should i take while im here?

  • Tetyana

    Hello. I’m a sophomore in High School and am highly interested in pursing a Toxicology career in the future. For future knowledge, what major and minor’s would you recommend as an undergraduate in college to better my chances in Toxicology.

    Thank you for your time.

  • sonalisa

    so what you mean is the salsry depends on our qualification

    • Radek M. Gadek

      The salary may or may not depend on your qualifications. It’s not true in all cases and work places, but I rather be the more qualified applicant than less so.

      • Dr.K.Choudhary

        Salary of Forensic Toxicologist depends on so many factors but work of Forensic Toxicologist is certainly thrilling and respectable if they maintain honesty and integrity.

        • Radek M. Gadek

          Thanks Dr. Choudhary. Do you have any recommendations in terms of courses a potential Forensic Toxicologist may need? Other ideas you can share?

          • Dr.K.Choudhary,Ph.D,LL.B.

            Thanks R.M.Gadek for quick response.In my view there is lack of systematic book on Forensic Toxicology and generally Forensic Toxicologist do not want to interact with each other.

  • Carmen S.

    if you have a bachelors degree in biology, can you go on to become a forensic toxicologist?

  • Risuna

    I’m fascinated with how poisons kill but I’ve never been good when it comes to science – the only science I was ever good in was Biology & I’ve never took chemistry or physics (I graduated from high school last year by the way so only way I could take any class is college but that’s soooooo expensive even with financial aid)

    I don’t care to find antidotes – I want to work hands-on with poisons – are there any careers specifically in that? I don’t mind if I have to work with bodies by the way

    thank-you for your help

  • Belle

    I’m going to be a senior in high school this upcoming year and still having trouble deciding on my major. I love chemistry and think that the toxicology major at the Pennsylvania State University would be perfect for me but I do have many questions about toxicology itself. What is the difference between toxicology and pharmacology? If you take toxicology in college, can you go to grad school for Tox/Pharm? How much math is involved in toxicology?

  • Que

    There’s not a whole lot of math involved aside from ur routine drug quantitations. More so conversions from different units is something you’ll do often. Day to day requires the ability to multi-task. And we have people who have degrees in marine biology to bio-Chem. But pharmacology is a great degree to have if this is what u want to do. It will help with your understanding of how drugs interact with the body as well as drug interactions which is key to interpretation. I suggest to anyone who’s interested to finish a tox lab where u can intern. I’m typing this from my phone so if it doesn’t make sense I apologize. I’ve been a Toxicologist for four and a half years now and if u have any question.a i can definitely try to answer them as best I can.

  • Brittany s.

    I’ve actually been thinking about joining the Forensic Toxicology profession but I am Currently trying to Make up credits from my Freshmen and Sophomore year in high school, as well as trying to do my Junior year and to graduate next year… so i was wondering with the 2 sciences I am taking right now and the senior science I take next year, would that be enough to pursue Forensics? and if so, what exactly will i need to get everything i need, to accomplish this?
    Thanks :)

  • Chris

    Would it be possible to find a forensic toxicology job with just a B.S. in toxicology?

  • kyrsten

    i recommend forensic toxicology because it really is a good thing to do and it is fun

  • bell

    Can you have an associate degree in forensic toxicology to work in the lab?

  • Cheryl

    I graduated last year with a B.S. in Chemistry, and I am currently in a Master’s program in chemistry as well. I am technically in an inorganic chemistry group, but we handle biological samples and do quite a bit of analytical work as well. Would this be sufficient to get my foot in the door as a forensic toxicologist? Or do I need to supplement that with a forensic science/criminal justice degree? I have always wanted to go into forensics, but didn’t want to limit myself with specialized degrees. Any advice would be greatly appreciated :)

  • Leslie osejo

    I want to become a toxicologist but I need to know what degree is best suitable I live in GA but I dont know what school is best for this career. I need help

  • Benetta

    Hi…. I’m really interested in forensic toxicology. Could anyone tell me if I can do toxicology if I major in biology and not chemistry?

  • Evelyn palomino

    Hi, I have recently discovered what it is that I want to pursue in life as my career. However, I believe it might be a little too late to continue the toxicology career because I obtain a B.S in international crime and justice. How can I continue my masters? Or would I need to start all over again?. Thank you

  • S .H.

    If you are a pathology resident, willing to continue you fellowship in toxicology and then forensic toxicology, is that pathway doable?

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