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Career Guidance


Academic qualifications: MBChB


Cape Town
Durban / NATAL

Basic degree as medical doctor: MBChB - 6 years studying medicine, followed by 1 year as houseman and 1 year doing community service.

B = Bachelor
M = Medicine
Ch = Surgery

Therefore, after 6 years you receive two degrees - 1 in medicine and 1 in surgery.

Once you have qualified and have done your houseman-ship and community service, you can -

  • Become a General Medical Practitioner
  • Work in a government hospital as G.P. (Medical Officer).

After 2 years of service as G.P. you can apply, at a University, to specialise in your field of interest - gynaecology, paediatrics, anaesthetics, pathology, etc. As numbers are limited for specialist training, there is usually a waiting period.

If you are accepted for specialist training at a University, you will become a Registrar (Clinical Assistant). The training period is 4-5 years (depending on the Speciality), during which time you will be required to work at a Government Training Hospital whilst continuing your studies. During this period you will have to write primary and final examinations, as well as submit a thesis which will have to be approved by an external examiner before you can qualify. When you qualify you will then have a Masters Degree in your chosen field, e.g. M Med Path (Foren) = Masters degree in Forensic Pathology.

Website   Quest article - 'Becoming a Forensic Pathologist' »



The work, i.e. determining cause of death, to the Forensic Pathologist, is certainly interesting. The work does have legal implications and requires giving testimony in court.

Forensic Pathology is vastly different to clinical work, as patient doctor interaction is limited. Much emphasis is placed on knowledge and interpretation of findings based on experience and knowledge. It is this that is tested in a court of law.

The UCT Master of Medicine (M Med) registrar programme is over a 4 year period. It consists of 3 parts, namely:

  • Part I. Completing the 1 year Anatomical Pathology rotation and successfully passing the required examinations.
  • Part II. Completing the final M Med Forensic examination, after gaining the required experience.
  • Part III. Completing the thesis.

The registrar programme involves:

  • Performing autopsies under supervision, and formulating reports.
  • Rotating through Anatomical Pathology for 1 year.
  • Giving evidence in court on autopsies performed.
  • Completing a thesis.
  • Acquiring knowledge through extensive reading.
  • Attending crime scenes as required by the SAPS.
  • Attending academic meetings, and presenting cases of interest at these meetings.
  • Obtaining the Diploma in Forensic Medicine from the College of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA).

Autopsies are done at the Salt River Forensic Pathology Laboratory on a daily basis. Autopsy reports are then formulated. Biological evidence may need to be collected during an autopsy, as required by the SAPS. If tissue was retained during the autopsy for histological examination, the tissue sections are examined by the Forensic Pathologist microscopically, and reports are formulated.

Inquest dockets are reviewed, and a cause of death formulated for Inquest purposes. This means that the pathologist who reviewed the docket may have to give verbal evidence at an Inquest.

Of note, the College of Medicine of South Africa is now the official 'exit' examining body for the M Med & F C For Path.

School subjects required:

  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Physics


The working day as Forensic Pathologist:

   Every morning I do autopsies on deceased persons who have died as a result of:

  • Murder - stabbed/ shot / strangled / poisoned
  • Suicide - overdose / hanging / shot
  • Accidents - motor vehicle / train
  • Drowning
  • Insect bites - snake / spider
  • Died in hospital during operation


   The remainder of the day is spent as follows:

  • Writing up Inquest reports regarding the cause of death of deceased persons, and also deciding as to whether there was any act of negligence on the part of medical personnel if this is in question
  • Attending court proceedings as pathologist
  • Attendance of crime scenes when requested by SAPS
  • Lecturing to medical students
  • Attendance and participation at Congresses / Seminars
  • Attendance of meetings with Trauma Unit personnel and surgeons with regard to autopsy findings
  • Microscopic analysis of tissues to determine causes of death
  • Handling of all telephonic enquiries, especially from relatives of deceased persons
  • Doing research work


   The work in the mortuary (forensic pathology laboratory) involves -

  • Identification of the deceased
  • Examination of the body to determine the cause of death
  • Compiling a report on the findings at autopsy, which focuses on the injuries sustained (internal and external)



BSc (Hons) obtained from any University.

SAPS Forensic Science Laboratory (Cape Town/Johannesburg/Pretoria)
Cape Town Telephone No: 021 955-9000


  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Blood spatter analysis
  • Blood grouping and DNA analysis
  • Stain and fluid analysis (e.g. semen)
  • Drug analysis
  • Handwriting analysis
  • Documentation analysis, etc

Ballistics Unit SAPS (firearm experts)
Chemical Laboratory (analyse body fluids for alcohol, drugs and other chemicals)
SAPS branches - Serious Violent Crime, Dog Units, Photographic Units, etc.

Further information »