Forensic Toxicologist - How to Become a Forensic Toxicologist

Forensic Toxicologist

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Forensic Toxicologist Job Description


Forensic toxicologists work to analyze tissue and blood samples taken from crime scenes to determine the presence and identify the type of chemicals in the sample. Isolating and identifying these substances is a crucial part of a criminal investigation and demands scientific precision and thoroughness from the toxicologist.

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Responsibilities

 

A forensic toxicologist works in a lab to identify not only poisons but also drugs, alcohol, metals, gases like carbon monoxide, prescription medications, and other chemicals in human tissue samples from crime scenes. Chemical reagents, sophistical devices, and exacting methodologies are all tools the toxicologist must use skillfully in this process.

The forensic toxicologist needs to work patiently to gain reliable identifications, using chain of custody for physical evidence and clearly documenting every step taken. The toxicologist must be ready to explain their conclusions clearly and in detail to a jury and to defend their results under cross-examination in the courtroom. They must also be able to provide an educated opinion on what effect a given substance would have on an individual.

Forensic toxicologists do not work exclusively with murder victims. Today, they are often called on to confirm or exclude the presence of date rape drugs, test athletes for performance enhancements, test animal samples for wildlife crimes, test employees for drugs and alcohol, and analyze samples related to environmental contamination.

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Skills

 

Communication

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.

Trustworthiness

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. 

Perceptiveness

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.

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Working Conditions

 

Working as a forensic toxicologist involves long periods of standing or sitting in a laboratory setting, using microscopes and other equipment or techniques needing lengthy application of fine motor skills. The lab is usually run by a private drug testing company, a medical examiner's office, or the police. Rigorous scientific protocols need to be observed at all times and chain of custody for evidence must be observed.

The forensic toxicologist often faces a large workload and tight deadlines, along with law enforcement pressure to produce quick results. They must be able to stay focused, remain calm, and work methodically and correctly regardless of outside pressures.

Working with samples of human tissue and bodily fluids means exposure to unpleasant smells and messes. The details of crimes may also cause emotional distress.

 


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How to Become a Forensic Toxicologist:

 

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

 

The minimum academic requirement for a forensic toxicologist is a bachelor's degree in clinical chemistry, chemistry, or pharmacology. Many toxicologists go on to earn a master's degree or a PhD in forensic toxicology from a university that has Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) accreditation for their forensics department.

 

The preparation timeline below outlines an example chemistry curriculum:

 

Grade Level

Example Courses

Freshman Year

 

  • General Chemistry I & Lab

  • General Chemistry II & Lab

  • Pre-Calculus

  • Calculus I

  • English 101

  • English 102

  • Humanities Requirement

  • Social Science Requirement

Sophomore Year

  • Engineering Physics I

  • Engineering Physics II

  • Calculus II

  • Calculus III

  • Linear Differential Equations

  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab

  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab

  • Humanities Requirement

  • Social Science Requirement

Junior Year

 

  • Linear Algebra

  • Calculus III

  • Biochemistry I & Lab

  • Biochemistry II & Lab

  • Chemical Literature

  • Physical Chemistry I & Lab

  • Physical Chemistry II & Lab

  • Humanities Requirement

Senior Year

  • Computational Chemistry

  • Inorganic Chemistry I & Lab

  • Inorganic Chemistry II & Lab

  • Instrumental Analysis & Lab

  • Chemistry Research

  • Seminar

  • Remaining Electives

 

Note: A graduate degree is not necessary for board certification (see step 3)

 

2. Take the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE)

 

In order to be accepted into a graduate program, students must pass the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE) with a sufficient score to be accepted into the school they're interested in.

The GRE is a 6-section, 4-hour comprehensive exam that is broken down as following:

 

1 Analytical Writing Section

  • 2 writing assignments

  • 60 minutes

  • Tests student's abilities to assess arguments and communicate ideas

2 Quantitative Reasoning Sections

  • ~20 multiple-choice questions

  • 35 minutes per section

  • Tests student's abilities to solve mathematical problems and interpret data

2 Verbal Reasoning Sections

  • ~20 questions per section

  • 30 minutes per section

  • Tests the ability to understand and analyze written material

1 Unscored Section

  • A duplicate of one of the above sections

 

3. Earn a Master's or Doctoral Degree (Optional)

 

Aspiring forensic toxicologists may want to pursue a graduate degree for further opportunities in the field, but are not necessary for to become certified. Those with more education typically have more successful careers and are more competitive candidates for the positions in which they seek.

 

Explore FEPAC Accredited Universities

 

4. Earn the Required Certification

 

According to the American Board of Forensic Toxicology, candidates must possess the follow requirements to be eligible for the certification exam:

  • Bachelor's degree in a biological or chemistry-related field

  • Three years of subsequent experience

  • 1 year of experience immediately prior to application

Details:

  • $150, non-refundable application fee

  • Passport-style photograph

  • Official transcripts

  • 3 professional character references

  • Annual maintenance fee of $100

  • Certificates are valid for 5 years and are renewable

 

Download the ABFT Certification Brochure

 

5. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education

 

Once certified, forensic toxicologists must submit annual documentation of continuing education in the field to maintain their certification.

 

Download the Continuing Education Annual Submission Form

 

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