Medical Examiner

Medical examiners, also referred to as forensic pathologists, are medical doctors who perform autopsies and other investigations to determine a cause of death. They are licensed professionals who are educated, trained, and certified to do their job. The road to a career as a medical examiner can be a long one, as one must hold an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine). In all cases a forensic pathologist deals with, he or she must have an acute knowledge of both science and the human body, and he or she must be able to explain in great detail his/her conclusions. Many times they are called upon in courts of law to help the court understand physical evidence and how it relates to the cause of death, time of death, etc. in a criminal trial. During a prospective medical examiners education, he or she can take advantage of ‘elective’ courses, and choose to get more in-depth in topics related to medicine and science to help them further their career and reputation.

Medical Examiners Education

Those who are interested in becoming a medical examiner should start considering it after high school, preferably before earning a bachelor’s degree in another field. There are degrees offered in related fields, such as forensic science, however a bachelor’s degree in forensic science isn’t necessarily required (though it can be helpful) to land the job of your dreams. Undergrad students should focus on the principles behind pathology; chemistry, biology, and physics instead.

Once a bachelor’s degree is obtained, a prospective medical examiner needs to then earn either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO). The student may choose a major in any medical field. Most medical schools do not have programs in forensic pathology, but some offer courses in the subject. After you’ve obtained your doctoral degree, you must then enter a residency program in pathology and forensic pathology (which is currently a 5-year process). Once your residency is complete, you are then qualified to sit for the exam (given by the American Board of Pathology) to become board certified in pathology and forensic pathology. In all, it takes an additional 8-13 years of education after high school to become a medical examiner.

Medical Examiner Duties

Medical examiners have several different duties since some of their work takes place at crime scenes, and the other half takes place in the facility or laboratory. Other times, they are called upon in court and must testify in a trial. More specific duties include:

At the crime scene they may:

  • Examine and document injuries, wounds, etc.
  • Determine identity
  • Collect remains, body
  • Transport body
  • Work closely with law enforcement, detectives, etc.

In the crime lab they may:

  • Perform autopsies
  • Determine identity if not found at crime scene
  • Examine and document injuries, wounds, etc.
  • Collect trace evidence
  • Determine manner of death (natural, homicide, suicide, accidental, undetermined)
  • Collect and interpret toxicological evidence

In court they may:

  • Testify for the prosecution
  • Testify for the defense

Alternative Names

Forensic pathologist; coroner; medical examiner; diener

To learn more about a career as a medical examiner, please feel free to click on one of the titles below. Each article is dedicated to helping you understand what you will need to do before, during and after graduation to have a career in forensic pathology.

Medical Examiner Education- Find out what it takes from high school, all the way up to graduating medical school, while trying to become a medical examiner. Learn about passing the rigorous and intense examinations you’ll need to become certified as a forensic pathologist.

Medical Examiner Salary- Do you want to become a medical examiner? Most people are interested in what they make annually when deciding between professions. However, if you’re not up for performing tasks such as autopsies, it may not matter what the pay is. Find out what your State pays medical examiners.

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