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Degree Overview: Master’s Degree Program in Forensic Pathology

Majors Overview April 28, 2015

Get information about master’s degree programs in forensic pathology and their education requirements, coursework, and career choices.

Master’s Degree Programs in Forensic Pathology

Forensic pathologists work to identify the cause of a person’s death and, if needed, identify the body itself. A master’s-level program in forensic science with a concentration in forensic pathology can train students for careers as researchers or teachers in the forensic pathology field.

Master’s degree programs are of particular use to individuals already in careers in law enforcement or criminal justice, such as crime investigators, laboratory technicians, and attorneys, seeking to add to their knowledge and skills in the subject. Those who seek careers as forensic pathologists must complete a medical degree and residency program apart from master’s-level forensic studies.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria in most master’s degree programs in forensic science require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree in a forensics-related field, such as physical, behavioral, or medical sciences or biology, augmented by a minimum undergraduate GPA.

Schools also insist on the submission of a current resume, an official undergraduate transcript, a written essay, letters of recommendation, and GRE scores. Many years of professional experience in a forensics-related field or Miller Analogies Test (MAT) scores may be required in some programs.


Students enrolled in a master’s degree program in forensic science with a concentration in forensic pathology are imparted a strong grasp of scientific knowledge in the field of autopsies and criminal science. This prepares students for a career in research or teaching.

Students become adept at collecting evidence at a crime scene and distinguishing and explaining the characteristics related to each cause of death (such as natural causes, suicide, homicide, etc.).

These professionals involve themselves in explaining and defining the principles and procedures of DNA screenings and toxicology. They also acquire skills like being able to describe numerous methods of identifying human remains and demonstrating and explaining the procedures of forensic photography. Coursework is a combination of biology and criminal psychology and analysis. Core coursework may include topic areas such as:

•Scientific writing
•Forensic psychology
•Molecular biology
•Evidence analysis
•Evidence collection

Career Choices

With a master’s degree in forensic science and a concentration in forensic pathology, graduates can seek careers in academia and research. They may choose from popular career options such as the following:

•Forensic engineer
•Forensic scientist
•Forensic chemist
•Crime scene investigator
•Laboratory technical specialist
•Forensic technician

Forensic Pathology Residency Programs

A 12- to 18-month residency program is devised to help those seeking full-fledged careers as medical examiners or forensic pathologists. Students enrolled in residency programs are provided paid employment working alongside professionals in the medical examiner’s office in a state or city while learning through practical, hands-on experience and observation.

Once they complete a residency program, participants may take the American Board of Pathology’s licensing exam. Forensic pathologists use their expertise in determining the cause of a person’s death and in identifying a body through various methods, including DNA collection. Forensic pathologists often offer assistance in crime investigations and court cases.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to complete a three- to five-year medical residency apart from a medical degree. Medical school graduates need board certification, or eligibility for board certification in anatomic and clinical pathology, or anatomic pathology.

Job and Wage Outlook

Over the 2012 – 2022 decade, job growth rates of 18% have been predicted for all physicians and surgeons (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Physicians and surgeons in general, including forensic pathologists, earn an average annual wage of $187,200 (BLS). Wages vary by location and experience.

Continuing Education Choices

Licensure is renewable every two years through the passage of an exam, in addition to completion and provision of documentation of other requirements, such as proof of participation in at least one laboratory improvement or quality assurance program per annum or peer reviews.

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