Forensic Careers | What You Can Do With a Degree in Forensic Medicine
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Forensic Careers 
What You Can Do With a Degree in Forensic Medicine

August 8, 2022

PCOM's Master of Science in Forensic Medicine or dual degree in DO/MS can prepare you for a variety of forensic careers. Our highly experiential programs develop a variety of analytic and critical thinking skills which prepare students to pursue careers in medical and legal death investigation.

What is forensic medicine?

PCOM forensic medicine students and faculty explore a mock crime scene outdoors

Forensic medicine is a specialized field of forensic science that combines medicine, criminal justice and law enforcement. Professionals use medical and scientific procedures to analyze evidence from crime victims or patients. Forensic medicine focuses on the evaluation of live and deceased victims and practitioners often try to determine a cause of death or injury. Forensic analysis seeks to identify if a crime resulted in the death, disease or injury of a victim.

What forensic careers can PCOM's forensic medicine programs prepare me for?

PCOM's forensic medicine programs include detailed instruction and hands-on learning exercises in pathology, diseases, law and ethics so students are well-prepared for careers in forensic science. In addition to interactive classroom instruction from highly experienced faculty, our curriculum includes hands-on learning experiences using mock crime sciences and clandestine grave recoveries. Our program welcomes both newcomers and veteran forensic professionals and features weekend classes and online instruction.

There are various careers in forensic science at the local, state and national levels. Many government and law enforcement agencies employ forensic professionals to determine manners of death, collect and analyze evidence, or manage cadavers.

Five careers in forensic science

Medical examiner or coroner

Medical examiners or coroners are physicians who work with cadavers of deceased victims to determine a cause of death. They are trained to analyze information, provide forensic evidence and testify in court as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases. These professionals conduct autopsies to discern a manner of death including homicide, suicide, accidental, natural or undetermined.

In most states, medical examiners and coroners must be physicians. They work for government agencies, hospitals, morgues and medical schools. Off-site work may be required for medical examiners, including travel to provide testimony in courtrooms, consult with forensic examiners at police departments or crime scenes and advise on autopsy reports in laboratories.

Gregory McDonald, DO '89, dean, school of health sciences and chair of the forensic medicine program at PCOM, serves as the chief-deputy coroner for Montgomery County and has completed more than 8,000 autopsies in his career. He has also testified in numerous homicide cases.

PCOM's Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program trains physicians to take a whole-person approach to patient care. We also offer a DO/MS in Forensic Medicine dual degree option for medical students interested in pathology and forensics.

Autopsy technician

Autopsy technicians work alongside medical examiners or coroners to examine deceased victims and determine cause of death. They may assist in the autopsy process through taking measurements of the body, such as height and weight; collecting samples of fluid or skins; and documenting the autopsy through note-taking or taking forensic photographs which may aid in a criminal investigation. Technicians are trained to help clean, prepare and coordinate bodies for examination, transport, cremation or burial.

Entry-level autopsy technician jobs may require a degree in a relevant field such as forensic science, biology or biochemistry. PCOM offers two graduate programs with intensive study in anatomy, physiology, infectious diseases and more. Our Master's in Biomedical Sciences is offered at our three locations in Pennsylvania and Georgia, and the Master's in Forensic Medicine is offered on our Philadelphia campus.

Forensic investigator
PCOM forensic medicine student takes photos at a simulated crime scene

A forensic investigator is a crime scene investigator (CSI) who collects and analyzes forensic evidence related to criminal investigations. An investigator's duties include examining crime scenes and collecting evidence such as fingerprints, blood and hair. Their job is to collect, test and process forensic evidence accurately so that it can be used as evidence in criminal cases.

Forensic toxicologist

Forensic toxicology is the study of toxic effects that toxins and chemicals can have on the human body. A forensic toxicologist is an expert in the various symptoms and treatments for poisoning. Laboratory tests on samples of tissue and bodily fluids can aid investigators in determining whether or not any alcohol, drugs or chemicals are present in the victim's body. A forensic toxicologist applies biology, chemistry and pharmacology to give investigators and legal representatives important evidence based on scientific analysis.

Laboratory manager

Medical schools and colleges often house cadavers in anatomy laboratories so student doctors can learn human anatomy in sterile environments. Anatomy laboratory managers coordinate the processing and transportation of body donors and dissected teaching materials. They prepare specimens for educational activities. They also manage the lab's supplies, chemicals and equipment. They also need to coordinate with families to ensure the proper preparation, care and burial of donors' remains after their use.

PCOM graduate Sara Sabatino (MS/FM '16) now manages the College's human anatomy laboratory after graduating from the Master's program.

What are the salaries and career outlooks for forensic careers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies a variety of forensic careers under the category of forensic science technicians. In May 2021 the median annual wage for forensic science technicians was $61,930 and employment is projected to grow 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

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