Guide to College Majors in Forensic Medicine

The first duty of a man is the seeking after and the investigation of truth.
--Cicero

What is Forensic Medicine?

Healthcare professionals who specialize in forensics serve as liaisons between law and medical science. The term "forensics" means "pertaining to law," and forensic experts and medical professionals are integral parts of the justice system. Forensic pathologists, doctors, nurses, and technicians use medical principles and scientific procedures to analyze the physical evidence associated with criminal investigations.

In practical terms, a healthcare professional who works in the forensic medicine field aims to discover the cause of a person's death, injury, or disease. She does so in the pursuit of societal justice. Healthcare professionals who specialize in forensic medicine serve extremely important roles that require a combination of precise scientific knowledge with a sincere desire to protect their communities.

Forensic medicine was first used in the late 1700s in the United Kingdom, to determine whether a death was the result of suicide. What originated as a very simple inspection of a deceased person's body has grown into the extensive medical field that we know as autopsy. Today, forensic medicine demands precision and accuracy. The medical equipment and techniques used by forensic professionals are highly sophisticated, and to pursue a career in forensic medicine, proper training is a necessity.

Online courses in forensic medicine provide students with opportunities to participate in meaningful learning without giving up their careers or personal lives. By completing courses online, participating in virtual training, and communicating with professors and fellow students in chat room settings, online forensic medicine students enjoy a quality education without the burden of relocating to a physical campus. Online forensic medicine programs enable students to fuse their healthcare careers with the information, training, and skills necessary to function as essential figures in the justice system.

Trends in Forensic Medicine Careers

Continued innovation in medical and investigative procedures has led to increased reliance on forensic medicine in the justice system. As forensic evidence becomes more common in criminal proceedings, the expertise of forensic healthcare professionals will be necessary to ensure justice.

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that overall job opportunities for forensic professionals will continue to grow as fast as average over the next 10 years. Opportunities for forensic nurses, in particular, are expected to grow rapidly. Students considering this field should note that employment prospects increase significantly with advanced medical and forensic training. Because this field is still fairly new and technology evolves quickly, state Public Safety Departments seek forensic professionals who are up-to-date on the latest procedures and who are properly qualified to operate medical equipment.

Preparing for Forensic Medicine School

A top-notch education is a necessary building block to achieving success in a forensic medicine career. Healthcare professionals who specialize in forensic medicine draw heavily on mathematical and scientific knowledge. Such knowledge is best developed in a forensic medicine degree program. The best degree programs combine math, medical, and science courses with quality hands-on training. Before deciding to enroll in a forensic medicine degree program, it is important that potential students consider several things.

First, you should carefully weigh your personal interests and strengths with the requirements of a successful forensic medicine career. Forensic healthcare professionals should generally enjoy detailed, complicated scientific procedures, have an affinity for science and math, and possess a strong commitment to creating a safer society through their work.

Second, obtaining a degree in forensic medicine will involve intense and advanced studies of biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Students with strong math and science skills should thrive in forensic medicine degree programs.

Aspiring forensic medicine professionals should also try to shadow current practitioners in the field. Shadowing involves following a professional around for a day to gain insight into what a job might typically be like. It is also a good idea to discuss your interests in forensic medicine with a professional. He may be able to offer advice, guidance, and ideas about job opportunities in the field. Ask questions about day-to-day job tasks, opportunities for career advancement, or education requirements. This sort of career probing and shadowing provides a thorough picture of future possibilities in forensic medicine.

Once you decide to pursue a career in this field, the final step involves comparing and contrasting potential forensic medicine degree programs to find the best fit. This is a valuable way to discover what you seek in a program. Maybe one program does not cover a particular aspect of forensic medicine that you're very interested in studying, or maybe another program features several courses in a specialized area that will provide opportunities for focus. These are all variables to consider carefully.

By using this research as a catalyst, you will also be able to generate a list of questions to ask admissions counselors that will assist in your final program selection. The more information you can gather about your forensic medicine degree program options, the better informed your decision will be.

Career Education in Forensic Medicine

College degree programs in forensic medicine allow students to develop the skills necessary to find employment in this area of healthcare. The choices of degree programs within forensic medicine, however, offer variety and room for advancement. Whether a student is interested in gaining entry level experience as a forensic nurse or as a forensic physician's assistant before pursuing a more intense degree program, or whether a current forensic professional aims to expand an existing set of skills and qualifications, online forensic degree programs offer many attractive possibilities.

Because advanced computer technology has become more easily accessible to more students, many healthcare schools offer degree programs online. Students engage in online tutorials, web seminars, and interactive training; hands-on clinical requirements can often be completed at local facilities. Forensic medicine students who participate in distance learning degree programs have the flexibility to schedule their own schedules and course loads around their existing commitments to jobs and family.

Forensic Nursing Certificate Programs

Forensic nursing programs are worthy options for both new students and current nurses who want to explore a career in forensic medicine. Online forensic nursing certificate programs encourage students to develop the skills that are necessary to assist medical examiners in collecting and testing evidence in an investigation. Students in forensic nursing degree programs will learn about the care of and advocacy for hospitalized crime victims. Developing a focused nursing expertise could translate into advanced employment opportunities.

In many online forensic medicine and nursing degree programs, students can transfer completed credits to a more advanced degree program later. Certificate programs vary, and potential students should discuss particular degree programs with school admissions counselors.

Associate Degrees in Forensic Medicine

Graduates of two-year associate degree programs will find opportunities in several medical fields that involve forensic work. Many associate degree programs offer courses in forensic science and medicine. Associate degree programs provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to secure entry-level employment in many medical fields, including medical assisting, lab assisting, and other technical careers. An online associate degree program provides an excellent opportunity for students to gain practical, on-the-job experience before committing to a longer degree program.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) is the starting point for forensic nursing and healthcare careers. Generally, B.S. in Nursing degree programs emphasize the general concepts of nursing, medical science, patient care, and related technology and equipment training. Nurses must be familiar with various types of medical illnesses, emergencies, therapies, and procedures. They must also consistently update skills, training, and knowledge.

Pursuing a nursing degree is an intense and challenging endeavor. It typically takes students four academic years to complete this program. Some BSN programs give students the option of concentrating on forensic nursing. For registered or practical nurses who already have clinical experience, online RN-to-BSN or LPN-to-BSN programs offer a convenient way to take your education to the next level.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Forensic Medicine?

There are many different types of forensic medicine careers. Often called "medico-legal," most careers in the forensic medicine field combine the legal pursuits of justice and safety with medical pursuits of scientific truth and compassion. Healthcare professionals who work in forensic medicine are truly public servants and play an important role in both the medical and legal communities.

  • Forensic physician assistants are qualified to perform many medical procedures independently as they assist medical doctors with advanced surgeries, techniques, and analysis. In many states, forensic physician assistants are licensed to examine victims, carry out investigations, and diagnose forensic related concerns. Forensic physician assistants often work in conjunction with forensic pathologists, medical examiners, forensic toxicologists, and forensic investigation managers.
  • A medical examiner is often an appointed state officer whose duty consists of investigating and analyzing deaths that fall into certain predetermined categories, such as homicides, suicides, deaths with unknown or suspicious causes, accidents, disasters, sudden deaths, and deaths occurring in jail or prison. Her purpose is to investigate, analyze, certify, and document the circumstances surrounding the death of an individual. A medical examiner's work and documentation may provide understanding and evidence in legal matters. It is common for a medical examiner to serve as a medical witness in criminal trials.
  • Forensic pathologists perform tests to determine information about the cause of a death. They analyze wounds, injuries, and other evidence of violence in deaths occurring as the result of homicide, assault, or other malicious actions. In addition, they may also handle deaths that are the result of accidents, alcohol or drug abuse, or natural causes. A forensic pathologist is a medical doctor with specialized forensic training who often works in a medical examiner or a coroner's office. Forensic pathologists are often asked to provide expert testimony and explanations in criminal trials.
  • Frequently, forensic nurses serve dual functions. A forensic nurse assists forensic professionals in investigations by running diagnostic tests and researching medical histories of victims. In addition, he provides care and comfort to victims and to the families of victims. It is common for forensic nurses to specialize in working with one type of victim, such as sexual assault victims, trauma victims, or alcohol-related victims. In addition to working in hospitals, forensic nurses also work in the offices of coroners and medical examiners, sexual trauma crisis centers, university medical facilities, and correctional facilities.
  • A crime lab director manages a team of lab technicians analyzing evidence in a criminal case. Working in this field involves performing drug analysis tests on accused criminals and victims, processing fingerprints, comparing DNA samples, performing polygraph tests, toxicology screenings and examining firearms. A crime lab director is often a lab technician with advanced experience and educational training. She manages the processing of evidence, approves procedures and test results, and monitors the preparation of the documentation that will be used in a criminal trial. It is not uncommon for a crime lab director to be called as a trial witness to explain the results and tests performed by her lab.
  • After gaining experience in forensic medicine, some healthcare professionals transition their expertise into consulting services. Forensic consultants are valuable resources for attorneys, medical examiners, crime lab directors, and other healthcare professionals who may seek a second opinion from another forensic specialist. This is an appealing career alternative for forensic nurses who specialize in sexual assault forensics, trauma forensics, alcohol and drug forensics, or many other areas of forensic medicine.

Certification, Licensure and Associations

Certified Forensic Nurse (CFN)
Sponsored by the American College of Forensic Examiners, a forensic nurse can become certified by passing the Certified Forensic Nurse examination. A CFN candidate can apply to take the exam once she has evidence of an educational background in forensic nursing and relevant work experience. If a forensic nurse wants to take this exam before she completes her degree, she may apply to be a part of a special training course. A CFN candidate must score at least 75% on the examination to earn certification.

Certified Medical Investigator (CMI)
There are five progressive levels of medical investigator certification offered by the American College of Forensic Examiners. This certification can be attained by many kinds of forensic specialists, including forensic nurses, forensic pathologists, and medical examiners.

  • A Certified Medical Investigator I must possess a bachelor's degree in a related field and five years of work experience. He must have a strong grasp on forensic medicine and pass an examination.
  • A Certified Medical Investigator II should have a CMI-I or be a coroner, medical examiner, RN, or other forensic professional, and he must also pass a second examination.
  • A Certified Medical Investigator III must be a CMI-II with five years of experience in the forensic field and pass a more intense third examination.
  • A Certified Medical Investigator IV must be a CMI-III with a Doctorate degree in a forensic medicine related field. A CMI-IV candidate must also pass a written examination.
  • Finally, a Certified Medical Investigator V must be a CMI-IV with five years of related medical, investigative, or forensic experience and pass a final written examination.

Forensic Science Associations and Certification Bodies

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