Forensic pathologist assistants – the unspoken heroes

At first glance, you may think of the title as being a little bold, but think of it: every crime scene analysis has to start somewhere. In order to determine the causes, time and other variables that are directly linked to the victim’s death, a base analysis must be made.

Here’s where forensic pathologists shine. Forensic pathologists, along with forensic pathologist assistants are vital to the post-mortem medical field. Assistants help the supervising forensic pathologist in determining cause of death and assisting in specimen retrieval, in addition to clerical duties.

As you may have guessed, the forensic pathologist assistant works strictly under the supervision of the chief pathologist that acts as his mentor during the formative years of his career. They (the assistants) supplement his superiors’ work, rather than working individually altogether. They help in the processing, testing and reporting of bodily specimens acquired from an autopsy or crime scene. They also might be put in charge of other duties, duties which will exercise their skills in toxicology, radiology, microbiology, chemistry and even photography, all of which might help better determine key variables in the cause of death that might help investigators later on.

A better understanding of forensic pathologists:

f2To get the best understanding of what a forensic pathologist does, you can start by thinking about them as a sort of crossbreed between a detective and a doctor. They need to be familiar in both fields quite well so as to better know at what (or what) they are looking for. This usually requires some preparations beforehand, like handling the administrative and clerical duties, preparing the post-mortem tools that are required, taking samples, photographing the crime scene, the samples and even sometimes extracting organs. These must also be made with absolute professionalism and finesse. There’s no margin for error in this field. If you do a mistake, you risk contaminating the entire sample set, or even worse, the body itself. A pathologist’s assistant is also responsible of keeping all the files in check, ordering the necessary equipment, write correspondence, coordinate schedules and even taking up and training new assistants of his own.

Becoming a forensic pathologist (assistant):

Oddly enough, there are very few schools in the US that have faculty programs for such a profession. You only have a selected number of quality schools that teach this and most probably you’ll have to relocate yourself at quite a hefty distance from your hometown. Potential students wishing to start their adventure towards a pathologist career need to also understand that this is a job with a very graphic nature. While many assistants will not encounter situations where they have to directly extract parts of a body from the morgue, they regularly, along with their pathologist trainers that they follow, are called to various crime scenes in order to pick up specimen samples, take pictures, and determine other crime scene related factors, such as how did the person die, did the death occur instantly and so on.

So how’s the salary?

It should be noted that there are no official forensic outlook numbers for pathologist assistants, but 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. 22% is quite a large increase for just 10 years, and while this might bring some not-so-happy implications, we must however remain subjective and notice yet another market niche where its specific market sector is in complete expansion and (theoretically) you could obtain a job in this field with ease.

When talking about salaries, we’re afraid that we have both some good news and some bad news. The salaries are by far no jaw-droppers (keep in mind that we’re talking about pathologist assistants, not full-blown pathologist investigators) , but they are enough for any person to make a decent living for themselves.  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 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The good news, as you probably may have figured, is that since forensic pathologists (and pathologist assistants) are on the rise, the salaries are only bound to go up. Think basic economics: When something is in high demand but the production is low, the price of that specific product goes up considerably. That’s the same exact situation here.

How do I select a school?

If we are to go according to the American Association of Pathologists’ Assistants (AAPA), there are eight accredited Pathologists’ Assistant Master of Science or Master of Health Science programs and one accredited PA Bachelor of Science program in the U.S. The official accrediting body which will then validate these programs is the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences or NAACLS for short. You can find more information on how to get started at .

Should I follow such a career path?

THis is all up to you. It depends on you on how tough of a stomach you have for these things. Work is not minimal either, so when you’re not taking samples at crime scenes, there’s usually other stuff for you to do. So in case you’re looking for a “reasonable pay, minimum work” kind of job, then we’re afraid that this one might not be for you. It is however, for people who want to start a strong, stable career in this domain who also understand that hard work in not an optional requirement.


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