A forensic pathologist, also known in some instances as a medical examiner, is a medical doctor (M.D.) with training in anatomical pathology and a specialty in forensic pathology. Education past the high school level entails at least thirteen more years of formal study. The primary responsibility of a forensic pathologist is to examine the bodies of people who die unexpectedly, violently, or under suspicious circumstances. These examinations are conducted in order to determine the cause, mechanism, and manner of death. He or she may also be instrumental in determining the identity of the deceased if unknown.
Responsibilities delegated to the forensic pathologist include studying the deceased’s medical history, possibly evaluating a crime scene for evidence, performing an autopsy, collecting evidence from the body for further analysis and evaluation, preparing a report stating his or her findings, and possibly testifying in court. This person may also have specialty training in other areas which help with the investigation, such as ballistics, toxicology, and DNA analysis technology. After examining the body itself, the examiner continues to spend time in the lab examining tissue specimens for physiological findings.
Some forensic pathologists work for a government department. Others work in hospitals, at medical schools, or in private or group practices that contract autopsy services to government agencies. They work closely with medical and legal authorities in the jurisdiction in which the death occurs. They must ensure that proper procedures are followed in the investigation. A forensic pathologist may also be appointed as a medical examiner by a governmental agency.