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Forensic Pathologist: Education & Professional Role

Forensic Pathologist: Education & Professional Role:

You will almost certainly have come across one of those TV series such as CSI where a detective investigates cases of murder and to solve them often uses the collaboration of a forensic pathologist. But have you ever wondered what this specific doctor does besides doing autopsies to verify what are the causes of the death of a patient?


The forensic pathologist is a doctor who has chosen to specialize in the branch of forensic medicine, the field of public medicine that deals with the relationship between the medical and legal fields. it is easy to understand why the activity of the forensic doctor is so important in the legal field: the legal professionals (lawyers, judges) cannot have the scientific knowledge suitable to understand the real extent of some events. How can a judge determine whether a tumor is caused by fumes from the land? What can a lawyer say about the effects of taking a drug? It is precisely here that the figure of the forensic doctor comes in.


In the US, becoming a forensic pathologist takes a total of 13-15 years after high school. Specifically, the steps are as follows:

• 4 years of undergraduate training.

• 4 years of medical school.

• 4-5 years of residency in anatomic and clinical pathology.

• 1-2 years of fellowship in forensic pathology.


The forensic pathologist is able to establish the exact causes and modalities of the deaths, and therefore to assist judges and police in carrying out investigations. Forensic medicine, however, does not only deal with legal and crime proceedings but carries out various activities in different areas: medical liability and negligence, autopsies, social security assistance, and compensation in case of traffic accidents. To fully understand the role of the medical examiner, it is necessary to read and understand the following three examples, which describe the three most common circumstances in which the forensic pathologist is called upon to practice. In the first example, a person is found mysteriously dead in a public or private place and there is no clear evidence of the cause of death, nor are there any family members or witnesses who can explain it.

-The forensic pathologist, appointed by the police department, will have to ascertain the cause of death, performing an autopsy on the corpse, and any other toxicological or anatomopathological examinations. From the doctor's report, it will be possible to understand if the victim was killed (for example, poisoned) or died of natural causes and this is decisive in court and for the continuation of the investigation. The purposes of the autopsy are anatomical confirmation of the clinical diagnosis, detection of infectious diseases, clarification of clinical scientific questions, and ascertainment of the cause of death.

-The 2nd situation concerns a road accident that causes injuries to one of the drivers involved: in this circumstance, the victim will hire a forensic doctor to ascertain the extent of the injuries reported to claim damages from the insurance company.

-The 3rd and final example relates to medical liability. A person who is found to have a serious medical condition even though all of the doctors who had previously examined him had excluded any problems. In this case, the person or a family member can turn to a medical examiner to verify that the doctors who failed to diagnose the illness are responsible or not.

A medical-legal report written by the forensic pathologist is an invaluable tool in the civil process as in the penal one: in this document are explained the reasons for an event, the scientific explanation of the pathology, the causal link between an event (a road accident, a gunshot, a knife wound) and the disease (injury, wound, death) that it has caused.

#ForensicPathology #Forensics

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