Medical Examiner: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Educational Requirements
To become a medical examiner, you need to train as a forensic pathologist. Learn more about what it takes to become a medical examiner, including where they work, what degree they need and the salary they make, to see if this is the career for you.
Medical Examiners Job Description
Medical examiners study cadavers to learn about diseases or to determine the cause of a person's death. These individuals must perform autopsies, examine injuries and wounds, and collect samples in a laboratory. Often these individuals may be called on to present their findings in courts of law if the remains are part of a criminal investigation. Therefore, medical examiners may work with detectives and law enforcement regularly. Continue reading for more information about degree programs, earnings, and job duties.
|Degree Required||Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)|
|Training Required||Forensic pathology residency or fellowship|
|Key Responsibilities||Determine causes of death, testify in court|
|Job Outlook (2016-2026)||5% to 9% increase (for coroners)|
|Median Salary (2019)||$99,996*|
Medical Examiner Responsibilities
Medical examiners do the job of a coroner, but medical examiners are physicians and coroners don't always have medical training (and it's an elected position). The primary role of medical examiners is to determine the cause of death, whether natural, accidental, or intentional. In this career, you are trained as a forensic pathologist. You'll act as an anatomical pathologist by studying organs, tissue, cells, and bodily fluids. Through these studies, you'll understand diseases and natural deaths. You'll testify in court, perform autopsies and analyze blood and DNA in laboratories using microscopes.
Forensic Medical Examiner Salary & Outlook
According to PayScale.com, the national median salary for medical examiners was $99,996 in 2019. Medical examiners are employed by individual counties, which leads to a large variance in salaries due to the different local county budgets. There are also different levels of coroners, which may also influence salary figures. An upper-level examiner is called a chief medical examiner and often has other medical examiners working under him or her. According to O*Net Online and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, coroners can expect a 5% to 9% job growth between 2016 and 2026.
What Should I Study?
If you want to become a medical examiner, you must earn a medical degree (M.D.). Once you have earned your medical degree, you can seek out knowledge in a pathology residency. Following your residency, you'll sub-specialize in a forensic pathology fellowship. Some teaching hospitals do offer forensic pathology residencies, but you'll want to complete a fellowship as well. Medical studies that can be beneficial for your career are toxicology, autopsies, radiology, pathology, phlebotomy, and biology.
Courses in law or criminal justice, possibly as your undergraduate minor, are useful since you may frequently testify in court or work as an expert witness in criminal and civil trials. In fact, during your residency or fellowship, you'll likely shadow a medical examiner when they go into a trial. These subjects may also be useful to help you understand the chain of custody, evidence collection, and forensic analysis.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
A medical scientist is a similar career that requires a doctoral or professional degree. These individuals conduct research and clinical trials to help improve human health. Biochemists and biophysicists also require a doctoral or professional degree. The professionals in this field focus on the chemical and physical elements of living things. One may also consider a career as an epidemiologist, which requires a master's degree. Epidemiologists study the causes of disease and try to reduce the risk to the public through research.