How to Become a Medical Examiner in 5 Steps

Explore a medical examiner's daily tasks, as well as the training and licensure needed to start a career in the field. Get recommendations for advancing your career, along with information on possible employers. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Medical Examiner?

A medical examiner is a physician who identifies deceased persons and investigates the causes and circumstances of their deaths. Their duties include conducting pathology and toxicology examinations, performing autopsies, locating signs of trauma, determining time of death, and preparing documents and reports of their findings. They travel to the scene of an accident or crime to gather evidence, remove bodies and interview eyewitnesses.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most pre-med students major in either biology or biochemistry. Both subjects are widely available in 4-year colleges and universities, and several offer biology degrees with a pre-med emphasis. Bachelor's degree programs have general education requirements consisting of courses in English, the arts and humanities, social science or the behavioral sciences.

A bachelor's degree program in biology with a pre-med emphasis offers courses in cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry and microbiology. A bachelor's degree program in biochemistry examines the chemical processes found in living organisms. In lab courses, you might study protein synthesis using DNA, protein modification, protein design and imaging methods. Other possible courses include immunology, genetics and organic chemistry.

Step 2: Complete Medical School

Medical school provides an intensive exploration of the human body and teaches students about the cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal systems. Through four years of study, you learn how to identify diseases, and cure or manage ailments. The first two years are academically oriented and focus on basic science. The final two years are spent learning in clinics.

Step 3: Complete an Anatomic Pathology Residency

A residency program in anatomic pathology immerses you in the process of diagnosing diseases through an autopsy. Programs are built around rotations in the major subspecialties of anatomic pathology, such as surgical pathology, cytopathology and forensic pathology. Opportunities are available to minor in sub-specialties as well, including gynecologic pathology, dermatopathology and neuropathology. Programs last four years and are divided into a 2-year anatomic pathology segment and a 2-year clinical pathology segment. Others are 3-year programs dedicated solely to anatomic pathology.

Step 4: Complete a Forensic Pathology Fellowship

In a forensic pathology fellowship, you develop your expertise at investigating instances of violent or unexpected death. Training emphasizes evidence collection and the identification of poisoning, disease, trauma or ballistic wounds during autopsies. Many programs have you working for your local medical examiner or coroner's office. Fellowship programs typically last one year.

Step 5: Apply to Work in a Medical Examiner's or Coroner's Office

While you may get hired as a medical examiner right out of school, it's more likely you will have to accumulate work experience as a forensic pathologist. According to O*Net OnLine, as of 2008, approximately 260,000 people worked as coroners or in coroner offices (www.onetonline.org). Employment was projected to grow 20% or more through 2018. Growth will arise from general population growth and the aging of the U.S. population.

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