Forensic Pathologist

Job Description

Forensic pathologists, also known as medical examiners, are the professionals who determine the cause of death for a person who died unexpectedly or violently.

The pathologist examines the person's dead body to determine the cause of death – that is, the exact reason.

They are also responsible for ascertaining if the death was natural, accidental, a murder, or a suicide – the “manner of death.”

Forensic pathologists work closely with law enforcement and may be appointed as medical examiners at the city, county, or state level.

After meticulous evidence collection, the forensic pathologist often presents, explains, and defends their findings in a courtroom.




The forensic pathologist uses a complex mix of medical and forensic techniques to determine how the person died.

This usually includes conducting an autopsy, examining crime scene evidence and witness testimony, collecting medical evidence from the cadaver, analyzing other evidence like ballistics or toxicology, analyzing blood (serology), and utilizing DNA technology. 





Must effectively communicate with your co-workers to ensure the best care and the proper procedures. Must be able to communicate in high-stress environments.

Active Listening

Offering your full attention to an individual person or group in order to fully understand problems and their nature.

Critical Thinking

Must use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Judgment and Decision Making

Needs to be able to act autonomously and make difficult decisions that would benefit the patient or make corrections. Must consider all benefits and repercussions of potential actions and choose the appropriate one. 

Complex Problem Solving

Must be able to identify complex problems and develop and evaluate corrective options and implement solutions. 

Stress Management

Must be able to endure intense situations and handle pressure that comes with extreme situations you may encounter.


Must be trustworthy because you have people's lives in your hands and what you do could help or hurt them. They are entrusted with a great responsibility and must live up to it. 


Gauging how people react and read their body language to decipher their feelings and predict their actions. They must be able to determine if people could be a risk to themselves or others and to distinguish truths from lies.


Working Conditions


Forensic pathologists work in the laboratory most of the time, often standing or sitting for extended periods of time.

Typical work includes conducting autopsies and using a microscope to analyze tissue samples. A workday may range from 10 to 12 hours or longer and may involve travel to a remote death site.

The pathologist needs to write clear, thorough, accurate reports. Occasional court appearances are necessary.

A forensic pathologist may work for a medical school, hospital, or other private organization that provides autopsy services to the government.

Others work directly for the government at the city, county, state, or federal level.

Forensic pathologists undergo difficult training requiring a minimum of 13 years. While physical demands from the job are minimal, these experts are subjected to extremely disturbing sites, intensely unpleasant odors of decay, and the repeated sight of human bodies mangled by violence.

The profession calls for strong nerves and may have long-term emotional effects on those who practice it.




Salary Outlook