How to Become a Medical Examiner
Medical Examiner Careers & Degrees

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.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$35,720
$25K
$29K
$35K
$40K
$48K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$29,220
Alaska$45,630
Arizona$34,090
Arkansas$30,950
California$40,120
Colorado$37,410
Connecticut$40,440
Delaware$34,770
District of Columbia$44,530
Florida$33,920
Georgia$33,300
Hawaii$39,620
Idaho$34,710
Illinois$36,500
Indiana$34,050
Iowa$35,880
Kansas$31,450
Kentucky$32,570
Louisiana$30,070
Maine$36,540
Maryland$37,320
Massachusetts$41,780
Michigan$33,760
Minnesota$41,710
Mississippi$30,690
Missouri$33,110
Montana$36,390
Nebraska$35,140
Nevada$34,860
New Hampshire$37,370
New Jersey$37,330
New Mexico$31,570
New York$38,590
North Carolina$33,380
North Dakota$37,170
Ohio$33,060
Oklahoma$31,610
Oregon$39,790
Pennsylvania$33,490
Rhode Island$37,270
South Carolina$32,470
South Dakota$31,130
Tennessee$33,610
Texas$32,550
Utah$34,090
Vermont$36,100
Virginia$36,510
Washington$43,760
West Virginia$28,710
Wisconsin$37,250
Wyoming$34,190
Guam$26,270
Puerto Rico$23,340
Virgin Islands$31,940

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $45,630.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $45,630
District of Columbia - $44,530
Washington - $43,760
Massachusetts - $41,780
Minnesota - $41,710
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Medical Assistants, OCC Code 31-9092, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat is a medical examiner?

Medical examiners investigate deaths that occur in suspicious circumstances.

Medical examiners are usually officials who are trained in pathology but exact requirements vary depending on the local and state laws.

Some US municipalities use the medical examiner system instead of the coroner system.

Medical examiners have a variety of job responsibilities, including investigating human organs, tissue, cells, and bodily fluids, determining the cause of death, issuing death certificates, and maintaining death records.

Medical examiners can also be called at the death scene and they may also testify in court.

If you’re passionate about science and you have strong critical thinking and decision making skills, a career as a medical examiner may be the right path for you.

QuestionHow much does a medical examiner make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t record specific data about medical examiners but they provide information about compliance officers, in general.

The mean annual wage for compliance officers was $72,520 in May 2018.

Salaries in this field can vary based on a wide range of factors; medical examiners can make anywhere between less than $70,000 and more than $120,000 a year.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a medical examiner?

Medical examiners are usually medical doctors (exact education requirements vary depending on the local and state laws) and they typically need at least 12 years of training beyond high school.

They need a bachelor’s degree in science and must complete 4 years of medical school and a residency period which is usually 4 years long.

Pre-med programs can cost you anywhere between $15,000 and more than $60,000 a year, depending on the school you choose and the program itself.

Medical school will cost you around $30,000-$60,000 a year at a public school and even more at a private institution.

QuestionWhat is the demand for medical examiners?

According to BLS, the demand for physicians and surgeons, in general, is expected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028.

The demand for medical examiners depends on the local and state laws and the level of government spending.

As forensic science is becoming increasingly reliable in investigating deaths and is often used as evidence in trials, coroners and medical examiners will continue to be needed to perform autopsies, to establish the cause of death and to help solve cases.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a medical examiner?

Education requirements for medical examiners vary depending on local and state laws but medical examiners are usually medical doctors who have completed at least 12 years of training beyond high school.

Prospective medical examiners typically start their training with 4 years of pre-med education followed by 4 years of medical school.

Medical school graduates who want to specialize in pathology usually complete a 3 to 5-year-long residency period.

Residency programs teach future doctors the skills they need to diagnose disease; after finishing residency those who want to specialize in forensic pathology continue with 1 year of training in the field.

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