Forensic Pathology Assistant: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Forensic pathology assistants are vital to the postmortem medical field. Assistants help the supervising forensic pathologist in determining cause of death and assisting in specimen retrieval, in addition to clerical duties.

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Forensic Pathology Assistant Job Description

A forensic pathology assistant works under the supervision of a forensic pathologist. Assistants aid in the processing, testing and reporting of bodily specimens acquired from an autopsy or crime scene. They may be asked to employ skills based in toxicology, radiology, microbiology, chemistry and even photography in order to help the pathologist discover the cause of an unnatural, suspicious or unknown death of an individual.

Forensic Pathology Assistant Duties

Since forensic pathologists function as both medical doctors and detectives, an assistant is responsible for a variety of duties. For instance, assistants help in postmortem examination and gather and prepare specimens for testing. Assistants may also be asked to photograph anything from the cadaver and extracted organs to microscopic samples.

In addition to laboratory duties, forensic pathology assistants may also be required to assist in administrative and clerical duties associated with the lab. They may order equipment, keep files, write correspondence, train new assistants and coordinate schedules. They may also help the forensic pathologist prepare for court if the pathologist is called as an expert witness.

Requirements of a Forensic Pathology Assistant

It is strongly recommended that those considering a career as a forensic pathologist assistant understand the graphic nature of the job. While regular pathology assistants may not encounter cadavers as a result of a brutal trauma, forensic pathologists and assistants deal primarily with crime scene victims and their bodies, in whole and in parts. The first requirement is to be emotionally and physically able handle the demands of the job.

The educational requirements vary, but most forensic pathology assistants have a bachelor's or master's degrees in a science or medical related field. There are some forensic pathology assistant programs available. They typically last 2 years. These programs include biology, chemistry and anatomy in addition to laboratory experience. All forensic pathology assistants are required to be certified as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS). The American Association of Pathologists' Assistants provides information on accredited programs and certification (www.pathologistsassistants.org).

Forensic pathologist assistants are required to be efficient and effective communicators with fellow laboratory members and the chief pathologist. Assistants must also be able to communicate effectively with people outside the laboratory (funeral directors, crime scene investigators, coroners, etc.) in reference to the autopsy. Assistants are required to pay attention to detail and have strong organizational skills.

Salary and Job Outlook

While there are no specific employment outlook numbers for forensic pathologist assistants, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for the broader occupation group of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians will increase 22% during the 2012-2022 decade. Medical and clinical laboratory technicians earned an average annual wage of $39,340 in 2012, and medical and clinical laboratory technologists earned an average annual wage of $58,640, according to the BLS.

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