Course Description

The student will gain experience and knowledge about general autopsy techniques, the gross and microscopic appearance of natural disease processes, basic characterization of injuries, proper certification of death, and the duties of a Coroner/Medical Examiner’s Office. The student will complete the following:

  • Be attentive to questions and explanations posed by the attending for each case.
  • Assist with eviscerations/dissections on cases and obtaining appropriate toxicologic specimens when instructed under supervision of the attending forensic pathologist; attend and participate in case review and all conferences including daily morning reports, weekly slide review, and consensus conferences.
  • Attend selected death scene investigations, if available; review basic histology with the forensic pathologists on selected cases.
  • Complete the death certification worksheet on selected autopsy cases that will be reviewed and critiqued by the attending forensic pathologist.
  • Supplement the knowledge base by using appropriate references and textbooks.

Instruction for the various components of this course will be given by autopsy technicians, the autopsy manager, the medicolegal death investigators, the rotating pathology residents, and the forensic pathologists.



Formulate a comprehensive differential diagnoses list and provide a plan for complete work-up of the case for apparent natural deaths during morning report.
Recognize and distinguish between cause, mechanism, and manner of death on each case as they pertain to the acceptable completion of the death certificate and the impact on public health.
Recognize normal tissue both on external examination and histologic examination as well as the more common disease processes (e.g., pneumonia, atherosclerosis).
Recognize and describe basic injuries (blunt force injuries, sharp force injuries, gunshot and shotgun wounds) as well as distinguish between antemortem and postmortem injuries and changes.
Have a basic understanding of the toxicologic properties of some of the more commonly encountered prescription medications and illicit drugs and the role of a forensic toxicologist in analysis and interpretation of postmortem toxicologic testing including how to consult with the forensic toxicologist.
Understand basic principles in death scene investigation.
Understand the Coroner/State Medical Examiner’s role as a branch of the Department of Public Health/Department of Justice in terms of epidemiology, medical surveillance, etc., and the relationship between the State and County Medical Examiners/Coroners.
Understand the interactions of family dynamics, socioeconomic issues, and the contribution of other health-related issues leading to death.
Demonstrate acceptable evisceration and dissection techniques and understand appropriate Personal Protective Equipment in the performance of a basic autopsy.

Professional Activities

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of autopsy medicine’s role within the health care system.
  2. Appropriately permit increased responsibilities of medical students interested in Pathology as professional career.

Instruction Methods

  1. Direct observation of house staff and faculty
  2. Participation in didactic lectures and weekly conferences
  3. Direct observation and participation of evisceration/dissection of organs with constructive assessment
  4. Completion of death certification module
  5. Completion of death certificate worksheets
  6. Completion of clinical case presentation