Cheryl Johnston becomes board certified in forensic anthropology

One of the professors at Western Carolina University, Cheryl Johnston, became board certified in forensic anthropology.

To qualify for board certification, Johnston said, “You have to have a Ph.D., be in forensic anthropology, and have three years post Ph.D. work in the field as an anthropologist.”

To become board certified, Johnston had to go “through a series of hurtles.”

First, one must apply to be considered for the test. Before applying, the applicant must complete and turn in forensic case reports and information about oneself. Then, the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, which contains 10 to 12 people, will evaluate if the applicant has met the qualifications and has the proper experience. Then, he/she is allowed to sit through the exams.

There are two exams that must be taken. The first exam is the written exam that contains multiple choice answers. The second exam is a practical exam, which is when bones and a series of questions are given to the applicant to identify the bones.

“It’s a pretty difficult exam. It was harder than anything that I did in my Ph.D. work,” said Johnston.

Being board certified gives Johnston certain qualifications as a forensic anthropologist involving cases that are taken to court.

“It strengthens my court appearance,” said Johnston.

She also noted that there are only 70 or so active that are board certified in the world and only two people, including Johnston, are board certified at Western Carolina University. Some countries are still developing the process of board certification.

“Just got back from the U.K. to visit a number of schools where they are starting their own board certification process,” explained Johnston.

Along with becoming board certified, Johnston is also a professor at Western Carolina, teaching a course in forensic anthropology and being in charge of the Human Decomposition Facility or the Forensic Anthropologist Research Station. She also advises students with projects that involve human decomposition. Johnston noted that she assists in case works and projects for law enforcement, using experiments to answer questions on the length of time something decomposes.

Johnston’s extra activities include writing and traveling to set up graduate programs for students overseas.

Becoming board certified was one of Johnston’s long awaited goals.

“It is kind of exciting for me because it is such a great achievement that I have been working at for a number of years,” she said.

She also shared the importance of having two board certified members at Western Carolina.

“I’m also excited because, here at Western, we have such a strong forensic anthropology program, and there is really no other undergraduate degree that’s offered by two board certified forensic anthropologists anywhere else. There are some grad programs, but in terms of undergrad programs, most of them don’t have one, let alone two. So it brings a level of high quality for the students.”

Currently, Johnston has been nominated for the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and is waiting to see is she will become a board member.

To learn more about the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, visit