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Forensic Pathology Courses and Classes Overview

Forensic pathology courses focus on the investigation of unnatural or sudden deaths. Most forensic pathology programs are part of postgraduate education for doctors. However, a few colleges offer courses in forensic pathology and related areas as part of undergraduate and graduate certificate and degree programs in medico-legal death investigation, forensic investigation, criminal justice and forensic anthropology.

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Essential Information

Forensic pathologists are medical doctors with training in pathology and forensic pathology. They review the cause of death and gather information for criminal cases, usually as part of a medicolegal death investigation. Most education in this area is offered in the form of a residency or postdoctoral fellowship in forensic pathology. However, courses are available for prospective medicolegal death investigators who wish to work in conjunction with medical examiners' offices investigating deaths. These courses are also useful to police officers, attorneys, nurses, forensic scientists and emergency medical personnel whose jobs involve investigation of death.

List of Common Courses

Below are forensic pathology and related courses offered by various colleges and universities.

Forensic Pathology and Medicolegal Investigation Course

This course examines the basic principles and techniques used during an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Students are particularly interested in if the death was due to natural, suicidal, criminal or accidental reasons. Students learn how to identify the various types of physical injuries and trauma. They investigate techniques for locating the presence of disease, sexual assault, drowning, asphyxiation, infanticide and other types of deaths. Individuals learn how to appropriately document, prepare and present their findings as evidence during testimony in court.

Homicide Investigation Course

Students review the stages and principles of a criminal death investigation. This course looks at the role of detectives at the crime scene. Students explore topics such as physical evidence, collection and preservation of evidence, photography, witness testimony and descriptive writing. The course emphasizes a team approach.

Forensic Photography Course

Participants learn the photographic techniques and procedures used for crime scenes, surveillance and evidence. This course discusses the types of equipment and material used. Hands-on instruction is given as individuals develop their forensic photography skills.

Forensic Firearms Identification Course

Students review the differences between all types of firearms based on caliber, manufacturer, design and load. This course examines how these differences leave telltale wound patterns and forensic evidence on victims. Individuals will discharge different types of firearms at a firearms range to study the various calibers of guns and gain an understanding of the impact and injury they cause.

Forensic Anthropology Course

While forensic pathologists focus on the soft tissue remains of a body in a death investigation, forensic anthropologists and entomologists review human skeletal remains to determine the cause of death. This course examines the types of bones discovered, the degree and nature of trauma to these bones, and the various stages of human decomposition. Students learn how to identify and classify skeletal remains and to estimate the time of death.

Biological Evidence Analysis Course

This course examines the biological evidence obtained during medicolegal death investigations. Students are trained to test samples of hair, blood and DNA. They examine the latest advances in biological evidence to determine the cause of death and prepare such findings for evidence in the courtroom.

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