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Education for forensic medicine,
situation in Germany

Matthias Graw, MD, PhD
Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

1.  Studies of medicine
Studies of medicine in Germany last for 6 years 3 month / 12 semesters, subdivided in two main parts: 2 years/ 4 semesters of pre-clinics where basic knowledge about the human body and processes are the main focus of studies, followed by 4 years / 8 semesters of clinics with a practical education covering specific topics of medicine.

Forensic Medicine is covered in the 8th and 9th semesters and contains a series of lectures, seminars and as a practical work participation in an autopsy.

The series of lectures contains 24h altogether and is focusing in blocks on the following themes: Thanatology, Blunt Violence, Sharp Violence, Gunshot Trauma, Asphyxia, Thermic Violence, Transportation Medicine, Medical Law, Child Abuse and Neglect, Assault and Injury in the Living.

The seminars are held in small groups with a maximum of 20 participants and cover the following topics: conducting a post mortem examination, ethanol analysis and evaluation, clinical forensic medicine and forensic DNA analysis, toxicology, medical law and biomechanics. Each seminar takes 2 hours, in total 12 hours.
In addition, during their studies, all students are free to participate in the daily autopsy programme.

At the end of the semester, students are required to take a written multiple-choice exam which is then graded.

2. Specialist training
In Germany, the specialist training to become a Medical Specialist in Forensic Medicine is individual in each state but “Model-Regulations” compiled by the German Medical Council are used as a point of orientation. It is therefore possible to say that specialist training is similar across the country.
The definition of Forensic Medicine is as follows: the field of Forensic Medicine encompasses the development, application and evaluation of the principles of medicine and natural science for the administration of justice as well as the communication of medical law and ethical findings for the medical profession.

A period of specialist training lasts 5 years, and includes at least 6 months covering the fields of Pathology and 6 months covering Psychiatry and Psychotherapy or Forensic Psychiatry. A further 6 months can be accredited in the following fields: Pathology, Anatomy, the Public Health Care System, Pharmacology, Toxicology, Psychiatry and Psychotherapy or Forensic Psychiatry.

The Bavarian Regulations for Specialist Training identify the following areas:
Knowledge, experience and proficiency in Conducting post-mortem examinations, Forensic techniques for autopsies and the evaluation of macroscopic and microscopic findings including histological examinations, Presenting causal correlations in the context of establishing the cause of death including the utilization of police files and the results of investigations, Compiling written and oral reports regarding causal correlations in the context of determining the cause of death and with regard to forensic-psychopathological enquiries, Collecting, storing, analysing and evaluating biological evidence, Assessing injuries to living people, especially in cases of child abuse and sexual offences, Assessing intoxication in living people as well as corpses, and securing materials, the essentials of forensic molecular genetics with particular regard to paternity testing and identification, medical investigations in criminal, traffic and insurance contexts, including forensic biomechanics, forensic traumatology, forensic anthropology including forensic odontology, The essentials of the forensic application of imaging techniques.

Especially following practical experiences are required: 400 descriptions and evaluations of findings from post-mortem examinations; 25 findings reports and evaluations from crime scenes and places where evidence has been discovered; 300 forensic autopsies and reports into the correlation between morphological findings and the sequence of events; 2000 histological examinations; 25 expert forensic-osteological or odontological reports; 10 evaluations of pictoral evidence and the collection and storage of biological traces; 200 oral and written reports for law courts.

The final examination is conducted orally by 3 doctors, one chairperson and two observers. The latter must be specialist doctors of forensic medicine and be appointed by the Federal Medical Council.

3. Diploma in Legal medicine
Because visiting scholars from outside the EU who have completed their doctorates find it difficult or impossible to put their post-doc training to use, as it is currently outlined by the German Regulations governing Specialist Training, the German Association of Forensic Medicine has created the possibility for them to acquire its own qualification in specialist training: the Diploma in Legal Medicine, for which a certificate is awarded in English and which can be used outside the EU. Applicants to the programmes are required to have completed a two-year course of specialist training at an institute of forensic medicine under the guidance of the institute’s director and pass an oral exam to acquire their diploma.

4. Doctoral studies
During the studies or after the state examination, students can work for a doctoral degree which serves as proof of the student’s ability to conduct in-depth academic research and is based on an independent piece of academic work (dissertation) and an oral examination.

5. Habilitation
Habilitation is the highest academic qualification and requires a professorial thesis based on a certain topic, reviewed by and defended before an academic committee. However, the level of scholarship has to be considerably higher than what is required for a research doctoral thesis.

6. Problems occurring in forensic teaching and education
1. Increased request for small grouped seminars; as there are about 800-900 students per year, this can only be met with an increased number of teachers as there is only limited time and the classes must take place parallel.
2. Teaching is primarily focusing on the broad spectrum required for general physicians according to the "Medical Licensure Act" and not as specific as in training for future medical examiner.
3. Like in other medical professions, more and more women chose forensic medicine as a career path: this requires regulations for pregnancy and parental time.
4. The job description of medical examiners includes three areas: Science, teaching and providing service. However, not every young professional is interested to participate in all three areas to the same extend.

  • Education Center for Forensic Pathology and Science Symposium
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法医学分野 (長崎大学医学部法医学)
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