How to Become a Medical Examiner in 5 Steps

Discover how to become a medical examiner. Learn about medical examiner education requirements, including medical school, residencies, and fellowships, and see other job qualifications. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Medical Examiner Requirements and Job Description

A medical examiner (who may also work as a coroner or forensic pathologist) is a physician who identifies deceased persons and investigates the causes and circumstances of their deaths by conducting pathology and toxicology examinations. They make observations of the condition of the body, including locating signs of trauma, determine the time of death and make note of any other evidence. After completing an autopsy, they issue a death certificate for the deceased. They may also travel to the scene of an accident or crime to gather evidence, remove bodies and interview eyewitnesses. The following chart provides an overview of a medical examiner's qualifications and current statistics on the 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 Medical license required in all states; voluntary certifications available
Job Growth (2016-2026 ) 13%* (for all physicians and surgeons)
Median Salary (2019) $98,633**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics', **PayScale.com

How to Become a Medical Examiner

Becoming a medical examiner involves undergraduate study, followed by medical school and the completion of a residency and fellowship. Below are details on the specific steps to become a medical examiner.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

To pursue a career as a medical examiner, you will first need to complete an undergraduate degree. Many schools offer specific pre-medical bachelor's degree program that help you meet the qualifications for medical school, otherwise degrees in fields like biology, chemistry, biochemistry physics and English are common. In a pre-med bachelor's degree program, you might take courses in cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry and microbiology.

Step 2: Complete Medical School

While there is not a specific 'medical examiner degree', those interested in this position will need to complete medical school, just like all other types of medical doctors. 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 typically spent doing hands-on learning, such as in clinics.

Step 3: Complete an Anatomic Pathology Residency

Your medical examiner schooling should also include a residency program in anatomic pathology. This immerses you in the process of diagnosing diseases through an autopsy. Programs are built around rotations in the major sub-specialties 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 13% during the 2016-2026 decade, which is faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. In addition, PayScale.com reports that the median salary for medical examiners was $98,633 in June 2019.

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.

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