The branch of medical science known as forensic medicine is dedicated to ascertaining medical facts relevant to a legal case, primarily those involving crime. When a cause of death seems suspicious, doctors of forensic medicine may perform toxicology tests and post-mortem examinations to determine the exact cause of death. Forensic medical experts are particularly helpful in providing evidence in a criminal trial.
Forensic medicine is not limited to post-mortem examinations and autopsy reports. Under certain circumstances, many patients who enter hospital emergency rooms are seen by a forensic medical expert. Some of these cases involve patients who may have been physically abused or sexually molested. In such as case, a forensics expert may gather evidence needed to support a legal case, such as blood, tissue, or semen samples. Similarly, pediatric forensic medicine often deals with child abuse cases.
A doctor of forensic medicine typically has specialized training either in anatomic or clinical pathology. In forensic pathology, the pathologist will determine the cause of death in suspicious cases. A clinical pathologist will provide evidence taken from blood, urine, tissue, or other samples that have been analyzed in a laboratory. Anatomic pathologists examine the body to investigate injuries that may be related to an unnatural death.
To provide evidence for the judicial system, a doctor of forensic medicine may also be present at a crime scene. He may examine the position of a body, although hair and blood samples may be gathered by specially trained police officers. Forensic experts are not always called to the scene of a crime, however, and this may vary according to location and jurisdiction.
Various careers in forensic medicine include a forensic consultant and a forensic laboratory technician. The forensic consultant may work with attorneys in providing evidence needed for criminal convictions. The forensic laboratory technician performs toxicology tests and may submit his findings to the chief medical examiner. He may also conduct polygraph tests for suspects in a criminal trial or civil case.
Those involved in forensic medicine must have a formal education in medical science. In many cases, the forensic expert will also have completed a pathology residency, as well as post-graduate courses. Chemistry courses, as well as courses in law and government, may be helpful for learning the fundamentals of forensics. An online degree may also be possible if pursuing a career in forensic medicine.