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Forensic pathology

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Forensic pathology is the study of disease and injury in order to provide objective evidences of a crime to the public and the courts. The origin of the word forensic is Latin, and means before the forum. During the roman times, all criminal charges were stated before a forum of public individuals. The meaning of forensic can be applied both on the legal context and also a category of public presentation.

Forensic pathology helps to determine the cause of sudden natural and unnatural death, characterize and interpret the role of injurious physical agents on the body, and, it establishes the relationship between natural disease and physical injury. To the forensic pathologist, life and death is the summation of human interaction with the environment.

Because forensic pathology is among the smallest of medical specialties, medico legal autopsies are often performed by general hospital pathologists, particularly in coroner jurisdictions. Unfortunately, autopsy procedures employed by hospital pathologists generally are inadequate for medico legal situations. In particular, the general hospital autopsy is oriented toward clinical correlation, comparisons with the medical record, and extensive histological assessment.

In medico legal autopsies, there is frequently no clinical record and correlations are frequently made with the terminal event and scene of death. Greater reliance is therefore placed on the external examination and documentation of injuries and postmortem changes, with histological evaluation being somewhat limited (except in cases of sudden natural deaths or the presence of associated disease processes in unnatural deaths).

Photographs and diagrams are of paramount importance in documenting both external and internal abnormalities. Since interpretation of the various injuries may change as more information is received, it is important that the final report be an objective document with little interpretive content and no conclusions. It is expected that medico legal autopsy reports with photographs and diagrams, will be scrutinized by others: families, lawyers, insurance agents, courts, juries, and other medical and scientific professionals. [1][2]

Functions of Forensic Pathology

  • Makes correlations with terminal event/scene of death
  • Initial identification often uncertain
  • Examines trauma, with or without disease
  • Looks for toxicologic findings
  • Seeks cause and manner of death
  • Has evidentiary and confirmatory value
  • Is a matter of public interest/record
  • Seeks histologic confirmation
  • Must be performed by a pathologist
  • Performed under legal authorization or mandate
  • Has no history in protocol
  • Results in death certificate and objective findings
  • Provides objective report without interpretation[3]

Branches of Forensic Pathology

Forensic Pathology can be divided into two major branches: Anatomic Pathology, Clinical Pathology.

  • Anatomic Pathology: This branch of forensic pathology treats the assessment of tissues that is collected from living or dead people by using of the microscope. The major subcategories of anatomic pathology 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 duty is to perform autopsies on dead bodies and decide the cause of the death usually in the cases the death is not solvable. The role of a cytologist is to examine cells of a dead body under the microscope and help determine various good or bad conditions.
  • Clinical Pathology: This branch of pathology deals with the evaluation of body fluids with the help of the laboratory. The main subcategories of clinical pathology are hematology, microbiology, chemistry, hematology and immunology. The forensic pathologists, the subjects of chemistry and toxicology are most famous.[4]

Forensic Pathology in the U.S

Brain X-rays

The current environment of forensic pathology is not strong as it has never been before in the United States. It has been a specialty of virtually handfuls of dedicated people over the nearly 200 years of the United States. On the other hand, the field of legal medicine (a broader field than forensic pathology, but including this subspecialty) has been strong and vigorous in Continental Europe for over 400 years. However, People in America widely know about the study of Forensic Pathology because of the TV series, "CSI(Crime Scene Investigation)". Yes, as you watch on television, the forensic pathology is used mostly when scientists trying to figure out the exact cause of a murder or death. In this aspect, the study of Forensic Pathology is useful and precise.[2]

History of Forensic Pathology

The first start of forensic pathology in its history was back in 1959 in the U.S. There were people who perform similar jobs prior to this date, but in this year, forensic pathology was only officially recognized by the American Board of Pathology. In Canada, Forensin Pathology has established formally in 2003. A formal education program for the people hoping to study forensic pathology is currently being established at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.[2]


The preparation should be started in high school period if you want to be a pathologist and the high school education should be science centered. You might also choose to take foreign language classes and cultural science classes. These classes will help you to understand your patients better later when you became a pathologist. In college, as a prep for a forensic pathologist, plan to take anatomy, pathology, physiology, biology, physical and organic chemistry, physics, calculus, and English. After 4 years of college, you have to go to a medical school. You are going to need to take certain prerequisite courses to apply for medical school. You have to take the MCAT(Medical College Admission Test) test and score well in order to get in a medical school. Usually, the hardest barrier to becoming a forensic pathologist is getting into and paying for medical school.

Once in medical school, you then decide on which branch of medicine to hope. The ordinary choices are surgery, medicine, family practice, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, radiology, psychiatry, or pathology. Medical school is course of 4 years and during that time you will likely have no forensic pathology lecture, instruction or experience. However, in your 4th year of medical school, only opportunity to take forensic pathology lecture as an elective will come up.

After graduating medical school, then you will spend the next 4-5 years as training in pathology. This is the time when you will decide to specialize in forensic pathology. Pathology training is the first time that you will perform a postmortem examination or autopsy. This is critical because forensic pathology is also entirely autopsy pathology and if you do not performing hundreds of autopsies each year, then you will not going to be a forensic pathology.

Overall, the education for forensic pathology requires 13 years of education or training after high school. You will be age 30 or 31 then. There are no shorter way to become a forensic. For the last time, you don't want to choose a school just because it has forensic courses or a forensic curriculum.[5]




  1. Forensic Pathology
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Forensic Pathology 2009 Forensic Pathologist
  3. Forensic Pathologists Graeme Dowling, MD, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
  4. Branches Anju Shandilya
  5. Education S.E. Smith, 06 February 2011
  6. About the Forensic Pathology YouTube

Additional Information

External Links