Forensic science is a discipline in which the scientific method is used to investigate crimes and examine evidence that may be presented within a legal setting such as a court of law. Forensic science includes many disciplines such as fingerprint and DNA analysis, forensic anthropology, and wildlife forensics.
Regardless of their specialization, forensic scientists address a common set of issues and goals in their work. These include conducting investigations so that reliable results can be created, communicating their findings to non-expert audiences such as juries, effectively applying new technologies, and being open to continued learning as the field of forensic science evolves.
Among the many fields within forensic science is forensic medicine. Forensic medicine is a specialized field that combines medicine, criminal justice, and law enforcement. Forensic medicine practitioners use medical and scientific procedures to analyze evidence from crime victims. These victims may be dead or alive. Their first encounters with living victims may occur in hospitals or at actual crime scenes. Such practitioners may assess injuries in surviving victims and determine the cause of death for deceased individuals. Forensic medicine may be applied to assess individuals who have been injured or killed by some factor such as trauma or intoxication and people suspected of injuring or killing others.
Given the variety of crimes, weapons, and motives, forensic medicine practitioners may need to frequently draw upon a substantial repository of knowledge to complete their work. Knowledge of weapons, disease processes, and how the human body responds to injury can all prove critical to the success of a forensic medicine practitioner.
Graduates of forensic science programs who specialize in forensic medicine may pursue various careers. They may fill roles including crime laboratory supervisor, crime scene investigator, forensic DNA analyst, forensic laboratory director, and forensic toxicologist. Forensic medicine practitioners may advance their careers by pursuing formal education up to the doctoral level and by accruing on-the-job experience.
Those interested in becoming a forensic medicine practitioner should read on to learn about admissions requirements, common coursework, and information about institutional accreditation. This page offers a tour of both online and in-person associates, baccalaureate, and advanced degree programs in forensic science, focusing on forensic medicine.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (US BLS) notes that individuals seeking to work in the forensic science profession typically need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and on-the-job training. Those seeking greater career advancement opportunities and higher pay often will need an advanced degree. Read on to learn more about featured degree and certificate programs in forensic medicine.
University of Maryland offers a full-time, non-thesis master of science (MS) degree in forensic medicine. This program is made possible through a collaboration between the University of Maryland and the State Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The curriculum includes classroom and online lectures, case discussions, and laboratory experience.
Curriculum topics include forensic pathology, general pathology, forensic autopsy, medico-legal death investigation, forensic toxicology, forensic radiology, forensic odontology and forensic anthropology.
Graduates may work in several areas including medicolegal death investigation, forensic toxicology, police organizations, prosecutors’ offices, and university forensic science departments. In addition, graduates have the background necessary to also subsequently enter medical school and pursue a specialization in forensic pathology.
Boston University offers a 38-credit biomedical forensic sciences program (BMFS) designed to train students in several disciplines relevant to both crime scene investigation and evidence analysis. The curriculum comprises three main study topics: core curriculum, forensic laboratory classes, and elective coursework. The program exposes students to multiple forensic science topics including, but not limited to, human biological evidence and DNA analysis, pathology, and medicolegal death investigation, criminal law and ethics, and crime scene investigation. Graduates may seek careers in numerous settings including crime laboratories, medical examiner officers, law enforcement, and laboratories.
University of North Texas offers a 19-credit forensic science certificate program. This program offers courses in UNT’s biological sciences, chemistry, and criminal justice departments. Students must hold a BS degree in biology, biochemistry, or chemistry to be eligible for admission.
Certificate requirements include a forensic science internship and satisfactory completion of the forensic science assessment test. Internships are available in various settings including crime labs, forensic chemistry labs, and forensic DNA labs.
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine offers a highly experiential, two-year master of science (MS) forensics program. This program, designed for individuals who have an undergraduate degree and a background in the sciences, consists of both in-person and online coursework. The program trains students in the analytic and critical thinking skills needed to become medical and legal death investigators. The curriculum focuses on the evaluation of both live and deceased individuals.
Coursework includes forensic pathology, research design and methodology, law and evidentiary procedure, and principles of forensic medicine. Additional coursework covers topics such as forensic anthropology, forensic odontology, forensic entomology, toxicology, arson and fire investigation, and evaluation of sexual assault victims. First-year students attend classes Fridays through Sundays one weekend per month. Online coursework begins in the summer of the second year of study.
Here are four additional distance-based forensic programs:
National University offers a master of forensic sciences (MFS) degree. This program features study of basic human anatomy, the process of death investigation, analysis of disease and trauma, and the identification of unidentified dead people. Students may choose one of two specializations. The criminalistics specialization includes courses in trace evidence, advanced forensic toxicology, forensic serology and DNA, and forensic anthropology. The investigation specialization focuses on advanced forensic investigative techniques. Those pursuing the criminalistics specialization must have an undergraduate degree in a laboratory science. Students must complete at least 54 quarter units to graduate.
University of Florida College of Medicine offers a 37-credit online master of science in medical sciences with a concentration in forensic medicine. It is the first completely online advanced degree program of its kind in the United States. This program is designed for professionals interested in careers in forensic medicine, forensic pathology, and medicolegal death investigation. The curriculum focuses on skills including the application of forensic medicine in the process of death investigation, processing of crime scenes, professional report writing, and providing expert witness testimony. This program features both thesis and non-thesis options.
Syracuse University offers a 36-credit \ master of science degree in biomedical forensic sciences. This pre-medical post-baccalaureate program is designed for students who wish to enhance their competitiveness when applying to medical school. The program features close collaboration between students and faculty. This flexibility permits students to tailor their studies to their individual goals, and field study opportunities in settings such as the FBI, US DEA, crime labs and medical examiner’s offices. Graduates may pursue careers in pathology, toxicology, DNA analysis, and forensic biology, chemistry or anthropology.
Stevenson University offers a fully online, 36-credit master’s degree in forensic science. The curriculum provides students the knowledge to identify, collect, and analyze forensic data and report this information in legal settings. Students also train in the quality assurance, quality control, and safety procedures characteristic of modern, accredited forensic science laboratories. Students may select one of two concentrations.
The forensic biology concentration trains practitioners in examining and analyzing DNA as well as serological and immunological evidence. The forensic chemistry concentration trains professionals to analyze chemical and trace evidence and describe the analyses necessary to isolate and identify drugs and toxic substances.
While forensics curricula vary according to the academic degree level and specialization, programs must feature a certain collection of core coursework to receive accreditation and prove competitive in the higher education marketplace. Core courses provide students with the training necessary to work in a forensics career. Students who seek a degree beyond an associate’s degree often will develop specialized subject knowledge in topics such as forensic biology, forensic chemistry, DNA analysis and pathology.
Associate Degree in Forensic Science
Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science
Master’s Degree in Forensic Science
Graduate Certificate in Forensic Science
In addition to core courses, students will typically complete a set of electives to broaden as well as potentially specialize their knowledge. Given the nature of the field of forensics there is a vast variety of elective courses a student may take. A selection of such courses appears below:
Upon completion of a degree or certificate program, some forensics professionals will seek out professional certification. Though forensic science professionals are not necessarily required to be licensed or certified, the professional recognition implicit in licensure and certification can enhance a person’s employment prospects and career advancement opportunities. A number of forensic specialty boards offer certification, including:
Bernd Geels is a Berlin, Germany-based freelance writer and artist. He holds an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science and two graduate degrees. He completed his most recent graduate degree in international environmental studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2011. He is interested in healthcare, climate change, marine conservation, indigenous science, and refugee issues. You can reach him directly at [email protected].