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February 18, 2012 10:09 PM   Subscribe

Which University/College should I go to if I plan to become a forensic pathologist? Specifics inside; looking for advice.

I'm currently working on my General Associates Degree, and will be done by next year. However the college I'm at only offers Associates' degrees and nothing higher. I need a Bachelor's degree in order to get into med school, so I need to finish the other two years at some other college/university.

I live in SE Houston, and I need some career help in the field of forensic pathology (medical examiner, coroner, roughly the same thing). I need suggestions on which undergraduate minor I should graduate with (I'm 100% sure that I will enroll in all the reqs for medschool) if I plan to go into forensic pathology.

Also, for school, I want to know if there are good medical schools in Texas or California (my home state), since I'm not really fond of Texas (but if money becomes an issue, I'm going to have to end up studying here instead of Cali '~').

According to the research that I personally have done, the minimum reqs for becoming a forensic pathologist are:
1. HS diploma
2. 4 years for a bachelor's
3. 4 years med school
4. 4-5 years training in A/C/F pathology
5. 1 year residency/fellowship
6. License exam

So... I'm stuck on the second 2 years for a Bachelor's (don't know which major I want), and which med school. I'm pretty sure I can find the training and residency fairly easy on my own/with the help of a couple of friends who are pretty much rooted in the medical community.

None of my friends are/know of any forensic pathologists or the like, so this is why I'm asking.

Thanks in advance! You'll be helping a guy study for his dream job! (Not many people think highly of this lol)
posted by Angel of Khaos to Education (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry forgot to add, but I was just wondering if anybody could help me find out how I can compare average salaries by state (for forensic pathologists), since I know that starting salary varies greatly due to location. My Google skills are failing me at this point due to my lack of sleep.

Again, thanks!
posted by Angel of Khaos at 10:16 PM on February 18, 2012

I don't know too much about this but what aren't there universities with medical schools where, if you enter as a pre-med undergrad and get a minimum GPA, you can enroll in the medical school without having to apply? That might help.
posted by kat518 at 10:24 PM on February 18, 2012

Biochemistry is an appropriate major for the undergraduate degree that precedes med school. I don't believe it is the only appropriate major.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:29 PM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: Which University/College should I go to if I plan to become a forensic pathologist?

This is the wrong question.

The right question is: "how do I get into med school?" That is your first step. And for this, I would consult very closely with the pre-med advisor at your college who can guide you through the steps and how to prepare yourself for the coursework and the MCATs.

Once you're in med school, the question is: "how do I prepare to become a pathologist and get a pathology residency?" Once you get a pathology residency, the question is, "how do I find a position as a forensic pathologist after I finish residency?"
posted by deanc at 10:32 PM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you'd consider going transferring to a school in Canada, you might take a look at Simon Fraser University's forensic science program. You can take both crim and forensic sciences there. Some of the work there - such as their studies of decomposing buried pigs - is cutting edge. I think it's Gail Anderson who has pioneered studies of insects in bodies - she was in Time. They also have a fantastic criminology program - some major research into forensic psychology and georaphic profiling. They've assisted with the serial murders on the Pickton farm here too. And SFU has a co-op program - foreign students are eligible, which would give you paid experience in your field. Tuition is about $5,000 per year for an international student. SFU allows majors, minors and even special projects, so you could potential combine forensic science, health science and crim. I remember an alum who'd gone on to Harvard Medical School writing a letter to the school paper and saying that he'd been offered transfer credit for most of first year med school after graduating from SFU's kinesiology program, btw.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:35 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @deanc
I see your point, I'm to blame for that. My wording is kind of wrong (I am out of it today). I really don't know how it came out like that, but I was just wondering whether if it was a good idea to stay in Houston or move back to Los Angeles for studying.
posted by Angel of Khaos at 10:49 PM on February 18, 2012

Then it doesn't matter. Deanc is right; med school should be your goal at this point. Go anywhere that has a decent biology/chemistry/biochem program, that you can get into (and hopefully get a scholarship/financial aid for, since you're going to add a lot more student debt after that), and that you can excel in. GPA and MCATs will get you into med school, not your location.
posted by supercres at 10:53 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I see your point, I'm to blame for that. My wording is kind of wrong (I am out of it today). I really don't know how it came out like that, but I was just wondering whether if it was a good idea to stay in Houston or move back to Los Angeles for studying.

Generally, the med school you attend isn't going to matter unless you plan to make a career in academic research medicine. What matters is your ability to get into a pathology residency that is considered good for pathology and forensic pathology, and that's going to be dependent on your licensing board scores and your research experiences in med school.

What school would you attend in Houston to get your bachelor's degree? How good is the pre-med advisory system there vs. the program you'd attend in Los Angeles? Will you have the financial resources and time to dedicate to MCAT preparatory classes? Are there places available where you can get research experiences in the sciences or working in a pathology lab as an assistant in Houston vs. LA?

I know it might sound like I'm making it sound more difficult for you by piling all of these concerns on you, but the truth is that this makes it easier-- you don't have to worry about the next 13 years to get to your end goal. All you need to do now is focus like a laser on getting admitted to med school in the next 2-4 years.
posted by deanc at 10:58 PM on February 18, 2012

My first thought was that you should give up on both of those states and move to Tennessee to check out the Body Farm in Knoxville. But that's not necessary because there are a few others, including two in Texas.
posted by cardioid at 11:58 PM on February 18, 2012

Medical school isn't something you can just sort of decide to do and then just sort of make it happen. It's an incredible commitment, and not everyone who wants to do it gets to. This isn't college, where pretty much everyone who applies gets in somewhere. Getting into medical school is, in and of itself, a significant accomplishment that generally represents years of work and dedication.

As such, the medical school application process is intensively competitive. There are 134 medical schools and 26 osteopathic schools in the country, which admit something like 22,000 students a year, give or take a few thousand. There are something like four million people nationally that graduate from college every year. Most of them don't apply to med school, but the ones that do tend to be drawn from the very top of that population. You're going to want to go to as rigorous and prestigious a university as you can manage for undergrad, and completely kill both your science classes and extracurriculars. People who go to no-name, third-tier schools tend not to be all that well represented in medical school populations. Large state research institutions, small private liberal arts schools, and elite universities are the vast majority, particularly the last. The question isn't "California or Texas," it's more like "Duke, Cornell, or Stanford?" Heck, many applicants have awesome high school resumes.

Also, your item 4 is actually residency, and item 5 is optional. The people who do fellowships are either looking for a sub-speciality or are doing research. Many if not most docs just do a residency and leave it at that. But you're still looking at 3-5 years after med school, which is four years after college.
posted by valkyryn at 4:20 AM on February 19, 2012

The advice about med school is spot on. If this is the route you want to go, do not--repeat, do NOT, get a criminal justice undergrad degree. I taught forensic science for CJ majors and it was an ugly shock for quit a few that the people hired to actually do forensic science were trained as scientists. The class was useful for people who were likely to eventually work with evidence in one role or another but was not a stepping stone to further analytical work.

You might want to bear in mind that there are other, very significant roles for people in the medical examiners office who are not MDs. Death investigators usually have a bachelors degree, for instance. These are very competitive positions, too, and require a really strong background in anatomy and physiology. (Death investigators go to the scene of a reported death and evaluate the situation-- their observations contribute heavily to the final determination of cause and manner of death.) There are also autopsy techs who essentially prep/open the bodies for the examiner. Not sure what their degree requirements are, but again, strong background in anatomy is essential.

Any chance you can do some job shadowing to find out more?

Good luck!
posted by Sublimity at 4:34 AM on February 19, 2012

Hi! I'm a pre-med adviser. This is my sock puppet account.

So the first thing I'm going to say is that there are a couple of things in this question that raise some red flags to me. One of them is that you want to be a forensic pathologist. This seems to be a thing that people on TV crime shows do, and that means that it attracts many students who want to have a TV job, not a real job. Have you shadowed an actual forensic pathologist? Do you like science?

The second thing is that it's pretty difficult to get into medical school after transferring from community college. It's not impossible, but I don't see it happen very often. Your next college will be significantly more difficult than your current school, and you must get As in your science classes. You cannot afford to have one bad semester while you make the transition. If you plan to go to medical school directly after college, you need to take the MCATs the summer after your third year of college, which means that you need to have completed two semesters of inorganic chemistry, two semesters of orgo, two semesters of biology, two semesters of physics, and preferably a semester of biochem by the end of the year. You need to have mastered all those subjects, because the MCATs are very difficult and will make or break your medical school application. You also need to line up recommendations from professors who can really speak to your abilities, and those professors really should be from your four-year college, not from the two-year institution. You need to have done some job shadowing and to have worked or volunteered in a medical setting. It would be helpful to have additional extracurricular activities that demonstrate leadership, altruism, and that you're well-rounded and work well in teams. You don't have very much time to do all this.

It doesn't really matter what you major in. If you can complete and do well in all the prerequisites for med school, you can major in English or religion if you'd like. I would stay away from obviously pre-professional degrees: sociology will probably look better than criminal justice, and biology looks better than health studies. Other than that, major in something you enjoy, will do well in, and will allow you to complete your pre-med classes.
posted by sockpuppy at 7:34 AM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

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