Medical Examiner: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become a medical examiner. Learn about job duties, education requirements and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Medical Examiner?

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
Median Salary (2016) $49,910*

Source: *

What Does a Medical Examiner Do?

The primary role of medical examiners, also called coroners, is to determine the cause of death, whether natural, accidental or intentional. In this career, you are trained as a forensic pathologist. You'll examine cadavers to determine the cause of injury. You'll also 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 analyze blood and DNA in laboratories using microscopes, perform autopsies and testify in court.

How Much Could I Make?

According to, the national median salary for coroners was $49,910 in 2016. 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.

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 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.

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