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.

What Does a Medical Examiner Do?

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. This involves studying evidence of trauma or other biological indications of what might have killed a person. They make observations of the condition of the body and make note of any other evidence that may shed light on the causes of a person's death. After completing their analysis they issue a death certificate for the deceased. 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 (2014-2024 ) Physicians and surgeons in general: 14%*
Average Salary (2015) Physicians and surgeons in general: $197,700*

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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (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 14% during the 2014-2024 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 $197,700 in May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a number of specializations a student with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree may go into when selecting a residency program. Aside from becoming a medical examiner physicians may be general internists, surgeons or general physicians. Many people with the knowledge required for medical examiners may also pursue careers in academia, teaching health and medical related topics at the postsecondary level. Those who don't have an MD may pursue careers as physicians' assistants. These aides help physicians examine patients, make diagnoses and prescribe treatments.

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:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  • The George Washington University

    The George Washington University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at The George Washington University:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Purdue University Global

    Purdue University Global responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Purdue University Global:

    Online Programs Available

  • Capella University

    Capella University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Capella University:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Penn Foster High School

    Penn Foster High School responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Penn Foster High School:

    Online Programs Available

  • Vanderbilt University

    Campus Locations:

    • Tennessee: Nashville
  • Boston University

    Campus Locations:

    • Massachusetts: Boston
  • Michigan State University

    Campus Locations:

    • Michigan: East Lansing
  • New York University

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: New York
  • Harvard University

    Campus Locations:

    • Massachusetts: Cambridge
  • University of Connecticut

    Campus Locations:

    • Connecticut: Storrs