What Does a Forensic Pathologist Do?

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What Does a Forensic Pathologist Do?

What exactly is forensic pathology and what does a forensic pathologist do? To get the answers to these question and to know more about the duties and responsibilities of a forensic pathologist, read on…

After watching a few very exciting television series on criminal investigations like CSI and Bones that involved forensic pathology, I was very much fascinated by this field. Forensic pathology is a branch of pathology that deals with investigating the cause of death or time of death of a deceased as part of a criminal investigation. A forensic pathologist is someone who studies this branch of pathology and primarily deals with conducting autopsies to determine time, cause and manner of death.

To become a forensic pathologist, a medical degree is mandatory which has to be followed by undertaking a fellowship in forensic pathology. As mentioned earlier forensic pathology is a sub branch of pathology, therefore the duties and responsibilities of a forensic pathologist are different from a regular pathologist.

A regular pathologist studies and examines a variety of natural diseases and injuries and works in conjunction with a hospital or laboratory. A forensic pathologist on the other hand performs autopsies and determines the cause of death, time of death and the instrument that might have caused death. They work closely with the coroner or medical examiner to arrive at the cause of death. Here we are going to discuss in detail about the duties and responsibilities of a forensic pathologist.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Forensic Pathologist

As mentioned earlier a forensic pathologist performs autopsies or postmortems to determine the cause of death. This is usually done when the cause of death is unknown and foul play is suspected. So a forensic pathologist examines a body within a legal context and usually a forensic pathologist is required to work closely with the coroner or medical examiner. However, the duties of a forensic pathologist is not just limited to determining the cause of death of the deceased. Given below are the duties and responsibilities of a forensic pathologist:

  • Performing a postmortem on the body to determine the possible cause of death and to rule out accidental death.
  • Conducting various microscopic and toxicologic analysis to determine the time of death. Determining the time of death is a very important factor in a criminal investigation as it helps to narrow down possible suspects.
  • Examining wounds like bullet wounds or stab wounds. Examining tissue samples near wounds to identify gunpowder particles or trace metal particles which will help in determining the caliber of the bullet in case of gunshot wounds, and the shape and thickness of the knife in case of stab wounds.
  • One of the most important duty of a forensic pathologist is to conduct toxicologic, microscopic, radiologic, photographic, serologic and microbiologic studies on the body.
  • Sometimes the identity of the deceased is not known and the investigating officer might request certain investigative procedures that might be instrumental in determining the identity of the deceased.
  • A forensic pathologist also has to determine whether any injury or wound to the body has been the cause of death or the injuries were inflicted post death.
  • Collecting evidence during the autopsy like hair samples, blood samples and tissue samples and conducting analysis of the same to help in the investigation process.
  • Reconstructing the sequence of the crime to understand how the deceased has received injuries or wounds.
  • Lastly, a forensic pathologist might be required to testify in court in case of criminal or civil cases.

The work of a forensic pathologist is exciting but not every one is cut out to be in this field. A passion for science, interest in criminal proceedings, having good attention to detail, ability to work long hours and perseverance are some of the most important qualities that a person should possess to become a successful forensic pathologist. In addition to these one should also have good communication skills and be articulate so that he/she is able to work together with law enforcement personnel and testify successfully in court.

In case you are wondering how much a forensic pathologist earns annually, then the average forensic pathologist salary is around $75,000 to $120,000. Now that you know the duties and responsibilities of a forensic pathologist, you can decide whether being a forensic pathologist is the right career path for you.

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