How to Become a Medical Examiner in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for medical examiners. Learn about job duties, education requirements, employment outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information At a Glance

Medical examiners, also called coroners and forensic pathologists, are doctors who investigate the cause of death of deceased persons and create official documentation of their findings. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this profession.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine
Residency/Fellowship Anatomical pathology residency; forensic pathology fellowship
Key Responsibilities Conduct examinations to discover cause of death for deceased persons; prepare certified documentation; may work with law enforcement
Licensure Required License required in all states; voluntary certifications available
Job Growth (2012-2022 ) Physicians and surgeons in general: 18%*
Average Salary (2014) Physicians and surgeons in general: $194,990

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What is a Medical Examiner?

A medical examiner, also called a coroner, is a physician who identifies deceased persons and investigates the causes and circumstances of their deaths. Medical examiner duties include conducting pathology and toxicology examinations, performing autopsies, locating signs of trauma, determining time of death, and preparing documents and reports of their findings. They travel to the scene of an accident or crime to gather evidence, remove bodies and interview eyewitnesses.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most pre-med students major in either biology or biochemistry. Both subjects are widely available in 4-year colleges and universities, and several offer biology degrees with a pre-med emphasis. Bachelor's degree programs have general education requirements consisting of courses in English, the arts and humanities, social science or the behavioral sciences.

A bachelor's degree program in biology with a pre-med emphasis offers courses in cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry and microbiology. A bachelor's degree program in biochemistry examines the chemical processes found in living organisms. In lab courses, you might study protein synthesis using DNA, protein modification, protein design and imaging methods. Other possible courses include immunology, genetics and organic chemistry.

Step 2: Complete Medical School

Medical school provides an intensive exploration of the human body and teaches students about the cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal systems. Through four years of study, you learn how to identify diseases, and cure or manage ailments. The first two years are academically oriented and focus on basic science. The final two years are spent learning in clinics.

Step 3: Complete an Anatomic Pathology Residency

A residency program in anatomic pathology immerses you in the process of diagnosing diseases through an autopsy. Programs are built around rotations in the major subspecialties of anatomic pathology, such as surgical pathology, cytopathology and forensic pathology. Opportunities are available to minor in sub-specialties as well, including gynecologic pathology, dermatopathology and neuropathology. Programs last four years and are divided into a 2-year anatomic pathology segment and a 2-year clinical pathology segment. Others are 3-year programs dedicated solely to anatomic pathology.

Step 4: Complete a Forensic Pathology Fellowship

In a forensic pathology fellowship, you develop your expertise at investigating instances of violent or unexpected death. Training emphasizes evidence collection and the identification of poisoning, disease, trauma or ballistic wounds during autopsies. Many programs have you working for your local medical examiner or coroner's office. Fellowship programs typically last one year.

Step 5: Apply to Work in a Medical Examiner's or Coroner's Office

It is likely you will have to accumulate work experience as a forensic pathologist before working as a medical examiner. While the BLS has no statistics specifically for medical examiners, they are included in the occupation group for physicians and surgeons. According to the BLS, this group can expect job growth of 18% during the 2012-2022 decade, which is faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. In addition, the BLS reports that the general group of physicians that includes medical examiners (that is, physicians not listed separately) earned an average salary of $189,760 in May 2014.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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