What Type of Degree Do I Need to Become a Medical Examiner?

Medical examiners are typically licensed doctors, and they need to have backgrounds in pathology and forensic science. Read on to learn more about the job duties of medical examiners and the educational requirements needed to enter this profession. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Defined

Medical examiners - sometimes called forensic pathologists - are responsible for inspecting deceased bodies and analyzing findings to determine the time and cause of death. As a medical examiner, you may use a corpse's body tissue, bodily fluids, and organs to gather relevant information. This job requires advanced knowledge of pathology and physiology; you must study and train for a number of years in order to become qualified to practice as a medical examiner.

EducationM.D. General Pathology Residency Forensic Pathology Residency
Perquisites Medical school degree Medical school degree, USMLE scoresM.D. or D.O. degree
Online Availability Yes Nature of program doesn't allow for distance learning Nature of program doesn't allow for distance learning
Common Courses Brain & behavior, body & disease Dermatopathology, electron microscopy Forensic photography, chain of custody, postmortem interpretation
Possible Careers Physician, Postsecondary Professor Clinical pathologist, laboratory director Forensic pathologist, medical examiner
Median Salary (2018)more than $208,000 (Physicians and Surgeons) $52,330 (Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians) $58,230 (Forensic Science Technicians)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)13% (Physicians and Surgeons) 13% (Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians) 17% (Forensic Science Technicians)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)


In order to qualify for the advanced education needed for this profession, you must first complete a bachelor's degree program. As an undergraduate student, you do not necessarily need to major in science. In fact, many medical schools encourage applicants to pursue a major in the liberal arts, such as English literature or history. Regardless of your major, most medical schools require that you complete coursework in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and calculus in order to qualify for admission.

Medical School

While there are exceptions, most states require that medical examiners hold a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. In order to earn an M.D. or D.O. degree, you must complete four years at an accredited medical school. You'll be introduced to topics like human anatomy, pharmacology, pathology, anesthesiology, and immunology. You can expect to spend the first two years completing intensive, in-class coursework. The final two years are typically devoted to hands-on, clinical experience.

General Pathology Residency

After completing medical school, you can continue training for this career by pursuing a general pathology residency. These programs usually last four years and will introduce you to more specialized pathology topics, including surgical pathology and cytopathology. The first two years typically focus on the methodology of clinical and anatomic pathology. You'll likely spend the final two years taking part in clinical pathology rotations.

Forensic Pathology Residency

In order to specialize as a medical examiner, you're usually required to complete an additional residency program. A forensic pathology residency program generally lasts one year and often takes place in the office of a certified medical examiner. You may conduct forensic autopsies under the supervision of a medical examiner and help complete death certificates.

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