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How To Become An Autopsy Doctor

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You’ve probably had a loved one or someone you know undergoes an autopsy after an unexpected death. Autopsy doctors are specialized forensic pathologists who determine the manner and cause of suspicious deaths. They carry out autopsies, also called postmortem procedures, which are complex examinations of the tissues and internal organs of the dead person. This helps to determine the mystery behind the unexpected cessation.

So if your passion or career interest is to become an autopsy doctor, you need proper training and experience. Let’s dive in to help you know all it takes to become a medical examiner.

What Skills Do You Need?

If you possess the below skills combined with your academic qualifications, you are a good fit for a forensic pathologist.

Effective Communication Skills: You will have a lot of practice preparing comprehensive reports and explaining the findings in your career. Sometimes you will appear in a court of law and testify your medical reports. So it would help if you were a good communicator.

Ability to Work Under Pressure: You will find yourself in many tough and emotional situations linked with your work. The cross-examination process of testifying in court and compiling complex reports demands you to be tough and able to work under pressure.

Work Flexibility: Each day will be unique with your reports and findings. Unlike other careers, forensic pathologists must be flexible when working. For example, you may regularly travel to collect samples for autopsies some days.

Teamwork Working: As an autopsy doctor, you will find yourself teaming up with other practitioners and officials, so you need to be a team leader who comfortably works with others. Some of the people you will encounter in your job may include law enforcement officers, attorneys, mortuary employees, and other pathologists.

Nature of Your Working Environment

As an autopsy doctor, you will spend most of your time in a laboratory performing the autopsies. After that, you may start working for government agencies, hospitals, medical schools, or private practices. Since the job is demanding, you will need to manage your working time between crime scenes, court hospitals, and mortuaries. This means there will be lots of travel from one place to another, not forgetting the need to stand for some time while working in the lab.

In addition, there are several people you will interact with, including other pathologists, the police, the mortuary staff, criminal justice professionals, and even lawyers. So you need to have the skills to work independently and as a team.

Corpse of woman in the morgue

How to Become An Autopsy Doctor

Unlike other degrees, becoming an autopsy doctor is demanding and requires some good years in school and specialized training. But it is worth your time, and will eventually pay off. Below are the steps that autopsy doctors take.

Earning a Bachelor’s Degree: This is the point you go for an undergraduate program to get your bachelor’s degree. It would be best if you had strong and good grades for social and physical sciences and English. Then you can pursue biology, chemistry, forensic science, mortuary science, or other premedical studies. You will spend four years in your undergraduate program, and once you’re done, you will proceed to the next level.

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT): Before applying for a medical school, you must take an MCAT test to assess your readiness for medical school. The standardized test covers verbal thinking, biology, and physical science. Once you get your MCAT scores and undergraduate transcripts, you can apply for medical school.

Earning a Medical Degree: Like other practitioners, an autopsy doctor must go to a medical school and earn a medical degree. This will take you another four years to attain your degree.

The first two years in medical school involve the teaching process in various medical areas like medical ethics, pharmacology, anatomy, and physiology. Then in the last two years, you will conduct clinical rotations in several medical specialties, including pediatrics, internal medicine, and cardiology.

Your four years are a mix of forensic pathology biology and medical courses. You must complete your medical degree, which is a crucial aspect of forensic pathology requirement.

Earning a Medical License: Earning a medical license shows your competency to practice in your autopsy field. Getting a license is not compulsory, but getting one increases your job offers in the competitive medical field. In addition, you need to pass your licensure exams, residency training, and, of course, obtain a medical degree.

Complete Pathology Residency: Once you complete your medical school, you must undertake advanced training by completing a four-year residency program. You can either take a clinical pathology residency or an anatomic pathology residency.

If you’re an aspiring examiner, you will team up with qualified and certified pathologists as you rotate across pathological specializations. Transfusion medicine, cytopathology, and forensic anatomy are part of the training. During your residency training, you will still attend your lectures and seminars.

Forensic Pathology Fellowship: Becoming an autopsy doctor involves years of learning and training. Next, you will undertake a one-year fellowship program in forensic pathology. Here you will gain complete training in a forensic field that involves working closely with licensed medical examiners. You will observe and participate in autopsies and write postmortem reports. The training will help you handle and compile your reports once you’re in employment.

Obtaining a Board Certification: Getting certified by the board is important. It shows that all the years you spent in school and training were worth it. To get this credential, you must have completed the above, including a medical degree, a medical license, and a fellowship in forensic pathology. Getting to this level means you are now an autopsy doctor and a board certification makes you competitive as you start your job hunting process.

Applying for work as an autopsy doctor: Now that you have all the required credentials, you cant start applying either in government agencies, private practices, hospitals, medical schools, and any other place that may require your services.

You may start as an intern, providing further hands-on training, but it’s not necessary to start here. Some go straight to employment. You’re as qualified as any other medical doctor, and you will be surprised by how important your forensic skills are, especially at a crime scene.

Salary of An Autopsy Doctor

if you’re wondering what will be your basic salary after years of schooling, stress no more. Autopsy doctors earn a competitive salary that depends on their experience, certification, and who they work for. Salaries may range from $33,000 – $95,000 and sometimes even more.

Forensic science programs are worth your time and money. If you qualify for the course, then you should go ahead and make it worth it. Remember, you have various places you can work for and they don’t necessarily have to be a medical facility.

Do Autopsy Doctors Need Other Requirements?

To top up with your credentials, you need to be physically fit. Remember there will be instances you will lift and sometimes move bodies of different sizes. There’s a need to have sound judgment, specialized knowledge, and expertise to appraise circumstances, consider alternative techniques, and give recommendations.

So it’s a plus if you’re well-versed in technical instructions and resources. It would help if you operated swiftly and independently without relying on the fact that you were working with other forensic examiners and pathologists.

What are Some of the Duties of an Autopsy Doctor?

Part of your work involves determining the cause of the unexpected death from an incident and stating the time of death. In addition, an autopsy doctor will know the type of disease the patient had or even confirm a diagnosis of other doctors and pathologists. Below are some of the duties of an autopsy doctor:

  • Obtaining samples from the body to conduct diagnostic testing
  • Analyzing the findings to ascertain the cause of death or to address further medical issues
  • Sharing your results with medical doctors and providing advice on how to enhance illness treatment
  • Documenting and reporting the data and statistics in medical journals
  • Identifying a corpse and deciding whether or not the victim was subjected to harm
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Appearing as an expert witness in court prosecutions
  • Conducting toxicological, rape tests, and DNA technology
  • Providing death detectives with pertinent facts about the case
  • Issuing death certificates


Becoming an autopsy doctor is not for the faint-hearted. You will spend over a decade in school learning and engaged in extensive training before qualifying to be an autopsy doctor. Your work involves performing a post-mortem examination on the deceased body and giving your findings. Some days, you will spend an extended period at a crime scene viewing people’s bodies as you trace evidence.

You will undergo several programs like a medical degree, a one-year forensic pathology fellowship, and a medical residency. But a medical examiner career is a good course that will place you at a competitive edge in career opportunities.


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