How to Become a Forensic Pathologist
1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)
It takes years of preparation to become a forensic pathologist. Completion of a four-year college degree is required and must include appropriate coursework. Students must maintain a high GPA that he or she will be accepted into medical school after graduation.
Aspiring medical students should declare their major as pre-med or another focused on the sciences, such as chemistry, biology, anatomy, or physics. Expect to tackle the more challenging courses that the school has to offer, and make use of all resources available.
The preparation timeline below provides an example pre-med curriculum:
|Grade Level||Example Courses|
2. Take the Medical School Admission Test (MCAT)
To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.
The MCAT is divided into four sections:
|Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems||
|Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems||
|Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior||
|Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills||
You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the AAMC website.
3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)
A list of accredited medical education programs is available through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). For more information and advice on successfully getting into medical school, you can check with the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Medical school consists of four years of studying the basics in science and participating in clinical “rotations.” These are hands-on clinical experiences in real health care settings.
In most med schools, the first two years are taken up with classroom studies before students are assigned to do rotations. The current trend, however, finds a number of medical schools exposing students to early clinical experiences that continue throughout the four-year program.
Most medical schools base their curriculum on a system-based approach that focuses on one physiological system at a time, such as the respiratory system or the nervous system. Still others may use a case-based curriculum that teaches about the human body’s normal functioning and disease processes by assigning students to following individual patient cases from start to finish.
Still other med schools use a combination of these approaches to educate their students. The most common lines of coursework among medical schools consist of the following subjects:
During the last two years of schooling, students are required to obtain hands-on experience at hospitals and clinics, learning to diagnose and treat patients while working under the supervision of licensed physicians.
Upon completion of four years of med school, a student is awarded a medical degree, or M.D. Another popular trend is for schools to offer combination degree programs, such as MD/MPH, MD/PHD or MD/JD.
The AAMC’s website on Medical School Admission Requirements offers more information on this option. The preparation timeline below provides an example medical school curriculum:
|3rd, 4th, 5th||
4. Take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
In order to practice medicine, aspiring geriatricians must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This exam is sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME).
The exam consists of three steps:
|Step & Purpose||Format & Other Info|
Assesses the ability to apply scientific concepts, basic to practicing medicine, emphasizing mechanisms underlying health, disease, and therapy.
Divided into 2 sub-steps: clinical knowledge (CK) & clinical skills (CS).
The clinical knowledge section assesses the ability to apply medical knowledge, skills, and clinical science to patient care.
The clinical skills section assesses the ability to gather information from patients, perform physical exams, and communicate findings with colleagues.
Divided into 2 sub-steps: Foundations of Independent Practice(FIP) & Advanced Clinical Medicine (ACM)
Foundations of Independent Practice assesses the knowledge and principles essential for effective health care.
Advanced Clinical Medicine assesses the ability to apply knowledge of health and disease to the context of patient management and an evolving disease.
5. Complete a Pathology Residency Program
A four-year residency program focusing on clinical and anatomic pathology must be completed to ultimately become a forensic pathologist.
Along with first-person training, these residencies consist of regular lectures on topics including autopsies, gastrointestinal pathology, surgical pathology, hematology, cytogenetics, and molecular diagnostics.
However, aspiring forensic pathologists should focus on anatomic pathology electives as they are geared more toward the career and will well-prepare students for the position.
6. Consider Earning a Board Certification
The American Board of Pathology (ABP) offers general certifications in clinical and/or anatomical pathology and a specialized certification in forensic pathology may be earned afterward.
In order to be eligible, candidates must have completed medical school and a residency, as well as earned a license to practice. Exams include written and practical sections.