Forensic Pathologist Career, Salary and Training Info

Determining the cause of death by examination of a cadaver is the job of a forensic pathologist. This autopsy is carried out by a coroner or a medical examiner and usually is associated with the investigation of a crime. In many cases, the forensic pathologist is charged with confirming the identity of a deceased person.

Studying the cause of death by examining a dead body combines a branch of medicine with the legal system.

Forensic Pathologist Requirements

This career is for medical doctors (MDs) who have completed training in anatomical pathology and have sub-specialized training in forensic pathology. This is a highly specialized field that requires a significant investment of time and money in education.

In the United States the education required after completing high school is usually 13 years in duration. You will have 4 years of undergraduate education followed by 4 years of medical school. This is followed by 4 years of residency in anatomic and clinical pathology plus one year of a forensic pathology fellowship.

Another requirement is passing the certification examination administered by The American Board of Pathology.

For any aspiring doctor, the critical period is gaining admission to medical school. For the board certification exams, the failure rates for anatomic and forensic pathology are 30-40 percent and 40-50 percent, respectively.

Although this may sound like a career with little (live) human interaction, good communication skills are an important aspect of this job. You not only need to be able to explain your findings but must be able to defend them in court when they are attacked by opposing counsel. There will be cases where your professional opinion is not popular with a family or a spouse and you must be able to calmly defend your conclusions and support your evidence.

Forensic Pathologist Education and Training

This is a career where education must be completed and you must be board certified to reach the level of forensic pathologist. As with any medical specialty field, professional training is ongoing with new developments occurring frequently.

Only experience on the job can hone your detective skills so that you can think and analyze a case based on the evidence you collect without being influenced by the opinions or needs of others involved in the case.

Forensic Pathologist Salary

If your interest is in crime scene investigation you will be working for a government agency at some level (local, county, state, or federal) and may find entry salaries begin at $80,000.

Working for a private crime lab may pay significantly higher starting salaries but those positions often are accompanied by longer or more erratic work hours.

One advantage enjoyed by forensic pathologists is the likelihood that work hours will be a standard 40 hour week and seldom more than 50 hours in a week. For the most part, you’ll have evenings and weekends off which is rare for any doctor.

It is not unusual to find salaries in the $175,000 – $200,000 range for a forensic pathologist with some experience and even higher for those few experts recognized as being at the top of their field.

Forensic Pathologist Career Opportunities

If you love unraveling a mystery and are curious about the pathology of the human body, the forensic pathologist career may be perfect for you. In an autopsy, you collect information, test tissue and use the information you find to draw a conclusion about the cause of death, the time of death and other relevant information that might help solve a potential crime.

Your time is divided between performing autopsies, acquiring data about the circumstances of the death from law enforcement and testifying in court. Although the crime scene investigators on popular television programs visit the physical scene of the crime in every episode, this activity is not common for most forensic pathologists.

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.

27 comments… add one
  • Ehud

    Important to note that the job is not just for MD’s, but also for D.O.’s

  • Asherah

    This was helpful information to me; Now I am for sure what i want to be in life !

  • Brittani

    This is really helpful and interesting. I am very interested in this field of work. I wasn’t exactly sure until now. It won’t be fun taking 13 years of college, like school all over again, but I think it will be worth it. I can always take 7 years of college and be a doctor or surgeon. (:

    • Kk

      it was thirteen years of post secondary school

  • katie

    thank you so muuch! i knew i wanted to be the person to do autopsies but i never knew what exactly would be in store for me or how long schooling would be. this is awesome, i definitely know what i want to be!

  • Marie

    This helps alot ! I knew i this was what I wanted to do , but i didn’t know the years i would have to be in collage for. Thank you so much, I’m sure this is what i want to study & be!

  • Rudy

    Now I know what I want to be when I grow up

  • Kaitlyn

    I knew I wanted to be a forensic pathologist for awhile so I have been looking around for as much “evidence” as possible! Thanks! I knew alot of this but I didn’t know about the evening off. That is much more convenient than I thought it would be!! Thankxx

  • Jen

    I definitely want to be this. No more OBGYN field for me :)

  • Steven S. Sohn, M.D.

    Forensic pathologist is tasked with determining the “MANNER OF DEATH” in addition to the determination of the “CAUSE OF DEATH” in his/her FINAL AUTOPSY REPORT.

    The manner of death is a medicolegal classification of death, whether it be natural, accident, suicide, homicide, and undetermined.

    The FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST is “the physician to the society” who serves not only as an archivist for the society but also as a GUARDIAN of the public health and safety, and administration of JUSTICE.

    I have been a forensic practitioner as a military/civilian medical examiner and academician for over 40 years and I am convinced that this job is the BEST JOB IN THE WORLD. I highly recommend forensic pathology to young aspiring
    students without reservation whatsoever.

    p.s. It takes a long arduous way to get there to achieve the title of a qualified forensic pathologist, however, in my case “GETTING THERE WAS HALF THE FUN!”.

    Steven S. Sohn, M.D
    CAPTAIN, MC, USN (Ret)

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Thanks for the great input :-)

  • Scene Queen

    Thank you for the information provided, I am the age of 13 and I have wanted to be a forensic pathologist my whole life. I did a project on forensic pathology for school and I learned a lot from that but I learned even more from this, so I want to say thank you for having this information available to the public.

  • Rachael

    Thank you very much. I have been looking into the job title Coroner, and it showed me the job of a forensic pathologist. I am currently doing my third school project over some form of Pathology. However, this time I have learned that the career center in my area gives out Biomedical Science classes and I plan on taking them the next two years (junior and senior years) Although I have read that going to a medical school with pathology courses will not help…i figure taking these classes in high school will give me a chance to begin to understand the career path of pathology. I know that this will take a long time…but good things happen to those who wait. And I am totally doing it. Thank you :)

    • Radek M. Gadek


      All the best in your quest. Let us know how things go.

  • zee-lowh

    I’m currently doing biotechnology, am i in the right track to be a forensic pathology

  • mercedes

    thank you so much for this information. I always wanted to become a forensic pathologist. I never knew what I had to do to become a forensic pathologist. This website gives a person like me insight into what is going to be expected in this field.

  • bri

    Thanks, I am 14 and I love science and crime investigation. Becoming a forensic pathologist seems like an appropriate career to aspire for, and this website was very helpful to my research.

  • Alexa

    When I was about seven years old I came across a live autopsy on television. My mother was in a state of shock when she walked in the room and found my eyes literally GLUED to the screen. In forth grade for “career day” I told my teacher while all my classmates wanted to be a doctor, vet, or restaurant owner, I took it upon myself to tell the teacher, “I want to open up dead people!”. Yep, I’m THAT girl. While doing a report on the profession of the county Coroner in eighth grade I realized that I wanted something more. I did a lot of hard research and discovered Forensic Pathology and instantly knew it was the career for me. The reason I’m sharing my life story in a nutshell is because I honestly thought I was alone! My friends and family, while still being supportive, think I’m absolutely nuts! When I got on this website today I was expecting to see the same research I always come across. A lot of it is just plain negative on the internet. I went to Mercyhurst University for a tour because I heard they have an excellent program in Forensics. When I told the professor I wanted to be a Forensic Pathologist he laughed in my face and essentially ignored me the rest of the tour. He said it was thirteen years of tough education and that the rate of failure in the field is outrageous. I’m aware that this field is quite difficult.. but come on. Every time I research Forensic Pathology it is always so negative. This is one of the first times I’ve seen a lot of positive in the subject. In fact, it is definitely the first time I’ve seen people excited about making this their career choice.

    I guess I’m not so weird after all!
    Now there’s only one problem..
    Where do I go from here?! I’m a senior in high school and I feel as though every time I ask a professional for some help I get instantly shut down. No one believes I can do it and it’s frustrating. I’m a straight A honor roll student in National Honors Society. I take all honors and AP classes. Is there something about this career that everyone else sees but me? I’m lost.
    I don’t even know where to begin looking for colleges and majors because no one is willing to help. I’ve done my research; I know what’s at stake. I just need some guidance.
    If anyone is willing to give me some advice it would be very much appreciated!
    My E-mail is [email address removed by Radek]

    • Radek Gadek

      Hi Alexa, I removed your email for privacy reasons, but come back here to see any replies you may have. You seem like you know what you want and that’s always a good thing in my book.

    • Reva Brooks

      Hey, I always felt the same way. Especially in high school, it’s like I was the only person in my whole school that was interested. When everyone would ask me what I planned for the future, I’d tell them cutting dead people open. Lol. But I’m now in undergrad school working for my associates, even though all of my family tells me I won’t make it.

    • Lexi


      Oh gosh you should hear the story I wrote when I found out I wanted to be a medical examiner.

      I was a business major for almost 3 years and hated every minute of it. I always thought I would grow up to take over my dads company. One night I was up all night looking at articles and reading online about autopsies and came across medical examiner. I literally cried my eyes out for an hour, this is at 3am might I add, I was so excited and in disbelief that I actually found my career and it was something I was excited about. That next week I completely changed my major from business to biology without talking to my parents about it.

      I told my parents a few weeks after I did it thinking they would be so angry but they were so happy I found what I wanted to do and said they figured I would get into a career like this. I grew up as the weird one that didn’t mind getting shots, watching blood be drawn, watching “live from the ER” on TLC. I was a weird kid and now it all came together. I couldn’t be happier with my career choice. Although I added another year to my undergrad I am thrilled!

      I am fascinated by the human body, its something you can see physically working and exploring that is what I find most interesting!
      Dont worry girl, you aren’t alone. Just apply to any standard college for your undergrad and study biology or focus on pre-med. Don’t worry about your undergrad, it’s the medical school or graduate school decision that is the hardest!

      Going from studying business for more than half of my college career to a complete change to biology was the best decision I’ve ever made. I enjoy studying a lot more now.

      I hope everything goes well, happy “hunting”!:)


    does this job require criminal justice as a major? because im starting that as my major for my first four years in college i wanted to know is it needed or required to move forward in this field as a forensic pathologist?

    • Radek Gadek

      You’re essentially going to become a doctor – a real one – who can practice medicine, if you so choose. Therefore, this is certainly one of the degrees where criminal justice WOULD NOT be recommended. Speak with a counselor at your college to guide you. Good luck.

      • Ezra

        Yes, you’ll be becoming a real MD. BUT, it’s important to note that as long as you do well on your MCAT exams for entry into medical and take the prereq courses (99% of medical schools have the same required courses of biology, math, chemistry, and physics) you can still essentially major in anything. All that said. Yes, most majors accepted tend to be biology/biochemistry/chemistry, and physics. But medical schools *love* liberal arts majors that have met their requirements. For this particular career path criminal justice, anthropology or even history wouldn’t be bad choices as far a major goes. But it would be wise to check with medical schools you’re interested in to look at their requirements/preferences, etc.

  • Jamila

    I personally have been interested in forensic pathology since my eighth grade year. I graduated May 2011 and am now a soon to be single mother. I am still very much interested in this field; just don’t know where to start. It is so difficult to get into a good school and pay for it for that matter! Any advice?? I am looking to pursue this field because it interests me and because I’ll have a career that would greatly support my child and myself. I really need some good advice on my next steeps. I’m 20 years old and need extreme guidance! I am determined to make this happen, just need help along the way…someone to believe in me and truly help me.

  • Hlutei

    I’ll try my best, i want to help the dead people and speak for them!

    • Sarah Lawson

      I admire your enthusiasm. Not all people are interested in this field. Bet you have a strong stomach. I agree with you, to be a good forensic pathologist, you not only deal with dead bodies, you should also be a good communicator. This field not only requires examination of cadavers, forensic pathology involves communicating with medical professionals, dealing with the victim’s families and most especially you will also work as expert witness in trials. Just like what you said, you will speak for those who died.

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