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How to Become a Medical Examiner



Medical Examiners are licensed physicians that perform autopsies on behalf of a city or county government. They are required to perform autopsies on bodies whose deaths seem to have occurred unnaturally such as a violent death, an accident or any death that seems to look suspicious or out of the ordinary.

A famous Medical Examiner is Dr. G. who has a show on the Discovery Channel that documents the cases assigned to her and her team. She investigates the causes of death of people who seemed to have died mysteriously and with many unknown explanations. Some of her deceased patients have been unidentified and it is up to her team to determine who the person is and notify their family. Dr. G.'s and other Medical Examiner's work is important because it can help law enforcement determine whether it needs to be involved in the event any laws were broken.

For example, if someone is thought to have been murdered, a Medical Examiner is responsible for providing proof that determines the cause of death. If a death is determined to have been caused by a murder, law enforcement will become involved to find the person responsible and help protect the public from similar incidences.

The difference between a Medical Examiner and an Autopsy Pathologist is that the Medical Examiner is an elected or government appointed official performing services for the public interest. They have legal responsibilities such as working with authorities to deliver a cause of death and details. If necessary they may also be required to provide testimony regarding the autopsy findings.

Similar types of jobs someone might be interested in include:

  • Forensic Science

  • Autopsy Pathologist

  • Autopsy Pathology Assistant


Education Requirements to Become a Medical Examiner



Candidates who want to become a Medical Examiner are required to have several years of education. The first step is to acquire a Bachelor's degree with a focus on science based courses such as Biology or Chemistry. The next step for someone who wants to become a Medical Examiner is to attend four years of Medical School in order to become a Physician.

Candidates also need to complete a Residency in pathology to gain experience in the field, something similar to a general doctor residency. During the residency, they will practice under a licensed medical doctor learning the routine, performing autopsies and gaining experience in the field.

In addition, people who are looking to become a Medical Examiner must seek licensure from a Certification Board such as the American Board of Pathology (ABP) to work as an Autopsy Pathologist. In order to get certified, a candidate needs to take and pass an exam. Re-certification is required depending on the Certification Board and experience. More information can be found at the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) website.

Medical Examiner Job Description



A Medical Examiner's goal is to determine the cause of all deaths that affect the public interest. Autopsies are delegated by the branch of government Medical Examiners work for. Typical responsibilities include the following:

  • If available, studies the medical history of bodies

  • Perform autopsies on bodies whose death seems unnatural

  • Determine identity: sex, ethnicity, age, etc. for non identified bodies

  • Collect tissue samples from the body for analysis; analyze tissue samples under microscope

  • Look for evidence of disease or injury to the body

  • Perform toxicology tests


In addition to using their knowledge of human anatomy, a Medical Examiner will draw upon their skills in firearms and ballistics, serology (the analysis of blood) and DNA investigation to provide accurate and thorough results regarding the cause of death.

Medical Examiners will provide the research and results to law enforcement in order for them to seek legal action.

Examples of the type of deaths a Medical Examiner is required to perform autopsies include:

  • Homicides

  • Suicides

  • Accidents

  • Unexplained

  • Unattended deaths

  • SIDs


Medical Examiner Salary and Career Path



Salary for Medical Examiners varies from state to state but typically begins in the low $70,000s and can go as high as $134,000 for experienced Medical Examiners.

The job outlook for Medical Examiners is expected to be strong throughout the next decade because of the legal system's nature and the promising growth in the medical field. Since Medical Examiners work for the legal system, job security for these professionals would also depend on a community's criminal activity or suicide rates.
 
 
 
 
 
 

*Salary Information provided by the Bureau Of Labor Statistics
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