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Forensic Pathology

Anju Shandilya
Here, we provide some information about forensic pathology, the role of a forensic pathologist, and other related details.
The branch of medicine that helps in determining the cause of death is known as forensic pathology. It is usually required in the scenario of criminal law cases, and in some jurisdictions, also in civil law cases.
The word forensics has been derived from the Latin word "forensis", which means forum or public, while the word pathology literally means "study of suffering".

Role of a Forensic Pathologist

The responsibilities of a forensic pathologist are provided here:

► This doctor is responsible for autopsy and post mortem examinations, to examine a dead body and determine the cause of death. The autopsy also helps in establishing the identity of the body, if it is not known.
► This doctor works with the medico-legal authorities (medical examiner), and helps to determine the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths.

► He also serves as an expert witness, and testifies in civil or criminal law cases.

Branches of Forensic Pathology

The two main branches are as follows:

Anatomic Pathology: It deals with the evaluation of tissues that are obtained from living or dead people, with the help of a microscope. The main subcategories are autopsy, surgical, and cytopathology. The surgical pathologist examines tissues and organs with the aim of making a diagnosis for any disease.
An autopsy pathologist's task is to perform autopsies on dead bodies, and to determine the cause of the death, usually in the cases where the individual's death cannot be explained. The role of a cytologist is to examine cells of the body under the microscope, and to diagnose various benign and malignant conditions.
Clinical Pathology: This branch involves the evaluation of body fluids with the help of a laboratory. The main subcategories are hematology, microbiology, chemistry, and immunology.


It is the examination of the body after the death of an individual. This process also includes external and internal body examination. Its main aim is to identify any disease or injury that may have caused the death. During the external examination, identifying features like scars and other markings that help with the body's identification are documented.
During the internal examination, the internal organs are examined to identify diseases or injuries. Incisions across the mid-line of the chest and abdomen, and also along the sides and top of the head are made during this process. The autopsy can take anywhere between 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the presence of any injury or disease.

Job Requirements

It takes a lot of patience and hard work to enter this occupation. You will first have to complete a four-year college degree, which is followed by a four-year medical school.
After obtaining a medical degree, you will have to complete a three to five years of a residency training program in general pathology. The entire duration of the residency will depend on whether the program is in anatomic pathology, or for both anatomic and clinical pathology. Your course surely must include the former type.
Once this is completed, you will have to complete one year specialty training program in this field, at the coroner's or the medical examiner's office.
Other than degrees and trainings, the most important thing is that, you must be very interested in science and must have the talent for it. You will be constantly dealing with dismembered and rotting bodies, and you must not find them to be disgusting.
You also should be good in communications, as you will be often summoned as an expert witness to the court of law, to provide your findings related to the cause of the death of an individual.