Popular entertainment is full of forensic pathologists, medical examiners, and coroners. These stories hold these experts of science as heroes. If you listen to true crime podcasts, it is usually the forensic experts providing the bulk of evidence, leading listeners to the likely suspects.
But this entertainment is not concerned with explanations which leads us to the question: What is the difference between forensic pathologists and coroners or medical examiners? Certainly, there is more to it than a few smart lines of dialogue and an epiphany moment leading to the killer.
In certain cases, like wrongful death, it is important to know the details concerning these fields and who works in them. An experienced wrongful death lawyer in Atlanta can help parse these details. The team of Atlanta wrongful death attorneys at John Foy & Associates can also work with experts to determine fault and how families can recover their rightful compensation.
Defining Forensic Pathology
The College of American Pathologists (CAP) considers forensic pathology a subspecialty of pathology. Focusing mainly on postmortem examinations and autopsies to determine the cause of death, forensic pathology aims to figure out the mysteries of suspicious and non-natural deaths, also known as reportable deaths.
Reportable deaths are defined as unexpected death. Someone who dies while being medically treated for conditions like heart or lung diseases is not a reportable death. Instead, a reportable death might include:
- Deaths stemming from suspected violence, suicide, or drug/alcohol use
- When a person dies while in the custody of law enforcement or a ward of the state
- Unexpected deaths or workplace deaths
- When a death is thought to be caused by an infectious or contagious disease
- Deaths resulting from environmental exposures
- Mothers dying during or after pregnancy
- The death of an infant or child, not thought to have a pre-existing medical condition
In these cases, a forensic pathologist typically performs an autopsy or other examinations to investigate unnatural, unexpected, and suspicious deaths. They have dual responsibilities, completing tasks in the medical field and the legal field by doing things like testifying in court concerning a death. Forensic pathologists have to be trained and certified in anatomic/clinical pathology, and after their training, they require a fellowship in forensic pathology.
The Difference Between Medical Examiners or Coroners and Forensic Pathologists
In some instances, coroners or medical examiners can be forensic pathologists, but there still is a difference. Forensic pathology is a specialty in the medical field. A forensic pathologist is considered a physician and a doctor of science, and often, they are considered medical examiners when they work in certain situations.
Medical examiner and coroner are job titles. People fill these jobs and work in this capacity at the service of a government agency. Coroners do not need to be physicians. They do not even need medical training, and many do not. Under these conditions, a coroner will employ a forensic pathologist to perform medical duties, like performing autopsies.
As long as the training and certification are complete, it does not matter what job a forensic pathologist holds. A forensic is still a physician, still a pathologist. Not all forensic pathologists are government employees – many work as consultants. In several cases, they work independently or act as medical advisors to personal injury lawyers.
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Forensic Pathologists at Work
Once a forensic pathologist finishes their training and fellowship, they are considered a medical doctor in the traditional sense. As physicians in the field of pathology, they have a working knowledge of:
- DNA technology
- Forensic serology
- Trace evidence
- Wound ballistics
A majority of forensic pathologists work in medical examiners or coroner’s offices at county and state levels. The jobs forensic pathologists perform in medical examiners’ or coroners’ offices depend on individual policies and the setting. Usually, they have an incredibly important list of duties, including:
- Assisting in the determination of the manner of death
- Performing forensic or medicolegal autopsies to determine the cause of death
- Identifying the decedent
- Examining the decedent to document injuries and/or disease
- Collecting evidence
- Conducting DNA tests
Over the last 10 years, approximately 37 medical students chose the field of pathology annually. Forensic pathology has had a decade-long drought. It gets worse every year, with only an average of 21 of those 37 newly trained forensic pathologists remaining in full-time positions after their first year. These paltry numbers are not enough to replace the working pathologists who die, retire, or suffer from burnout every year.
The Path of a Forensic Pathologist
Becoming a forensic pathologist requires a scientifically curious and inquisitive person. It also takes a resolute person who can think creatively. Often, a pathologist has to dive deep into the evidence, collecting crucial clues beyond the surface level.
Those who choose to accept a career path in forensic pathology should be civic-minded and passionate about public health. With so many forensic pathologists employed by the local and state governments, serving their community and providing public safety should be present in future pathologists’ minds.
Because the nature of the job often requires forensic pathologists to remain in the background toiling away for truths and investigating for clues, they are usually not the face of an investigation. They are rarely held as heroes, but the job can be rewarding if their work can bring peace to grieving families.
Contact a Car Accident Attorney in Atlanta Today
The skillful collective of Atlanta wrongful death attorneys at John Foy & Associates are here to listen to you and discuss your case with compassion and care. We have more than 20 years of fighting for our clients, protecting their rights, and recovering the compensation needed to help them through this loss.
We can work with experts to collect and preserve evidence to discover the actions of the at-fault parties, who were negligent, and the damage done to your family. This evidence may include:
- Accident scene photos or videos
- Expert witness testimony
- Eyewitness testimony
- Medical records
- Records from law enforcement
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, our team of wrongful death attorneys in Atlanta can help determine the responsible parties or entities and hold them accountable. Contact us as soon as possible to schedule a free consultation.