Career Development

What Does a Medical Examiner Do?

Find out what a medical examiner does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a medical examiner.

Medical examiners are responsible for determining the cause of death in cases where it is not immediately obvious. They may also be called upon to investigate suspicious deaths or injuries that require further examination.

Medical examiners typically work closely with law enforcement agencies and other government organizations to help determine how people died. This can include everything from homicides, suicides, accidents, and natural causes.

Medical Examiner Job Duties

A medical examiner typically has a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Collecting biological evidence such as samples of blood, semen, hair, or other materials that can be used to identify the suspect
  • Reviewing autopsy results and police reports to determine cause of death
  • Performing autopsies and investigating deaths to determine if they were due to natural causes, suicide, homicide, accident, or undetermined cause
  • Determining the time and manner of death by examining the body for signs of trauma or disease
  • Maintaining detailed records of their investigations, which may be used as evidence in court proceedings
  • Testing samples for DNA, drug residues, poisons, or other substances that may be used as evidence in court
  • Conducting tests on the bones, organs, fluids, and tissues of deceased persons to determine cause of death
  • Communicating with family members of the deceased to determine circumstances surrounding death
  • Examining crime scenes and bodies to collect evidence such as fingerprints, hair, fibers, and DNA samples

Medical Examiner Salary & Outlook

The salary of a medical examiner can vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of work they do. Those who work in larger cities may earn more than those who work in smaller towns.

  • Median Annual Salary: $83,500 ($40.14/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $215,000 ($103.37/hour)

The employment of medical examiners is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

The need to identify human remains and determine cause and manner of death will continue to drive demand for medical examiners. In addition, the increasing popularity of forensic pathology—the application of medical knowledge to legal questions—will sustain demand for these workers.

Related: 25 Medical Examiner Interview Questions and Answers

Medical Examiner Job Requirements

A medical examiner typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Medical examiners need a bachelor’s degree in a field such as biology, forensic science or criminalistics. Some medical examiners choose to earn a master’s degree in forensic science or pathology to increase their job opportunities and earning potential.

Medical examiners must also complete a forensic pathology residency program. These programs are usually one to two years long and are offered by medical schools and universities.

Training & Experience: After graduating from medical school, a physician must complete a one-year internship. During this time, they work under the supervision of a practicing physician. They learn how to perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat patients and communicate their findings.

After completing their internship, a physician must complete a residency program. This typically lasts three to seven years and allows them to specialize in a certain field. Residency programs are highly competitive, and many students complete them after completing their internship.

Certifications & Licenses: Medical examiners must be board-certified and licensed to work in their state or district. Specialized certification is voluntary for medical examiners, but preferred by many organizations.

Medical Examiner Skills

Medical examiners need the following skills in order to be successful:

Technical skills: Medical examiners use technical skills to analyze and interpret data, including medical records, test results and other information. They use technical skills to determine the cause of death and other information about a deceased person. Medical examiners use technical skills to ensure they follow proper procedures when performing autopsies.

Communication skills: Medical examiners communicate with a variety of people, including law enforcement, families of victims, other medical professionals and the public. They need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively in a variety of settings. Medical examiners also need to be able to listen to others and understand their needs.

Investigative skills: Medical examiners use investigative skills to gather information about a death. They may interview witnesses, examine the scene where the person died and review medical records to determine the cause of death. Medical examiners use investigative skills to determine if a death was natural, accidental or a result of foul play.

Detail-oriented: Medical examiners need to be detail-oriented to ensure they gather all the information needed to make an accurate diagnosis. They need to be able to read and interpret medical records and test results to understand the cause of death and any other health issues the patient may have had. This information is important for law enforcement to determine the cause of an accident or crime and for families to understand the circumstances surrounding a loved one’s death.

Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Medical examiners use this skill to help grieving families during the process of identifying a body. They also use this skill to help law enforcement officers and other medical professionals understand the circumstances surrounding a death.

Medical Examiner Work Environment

Medical examiners typically work in morgues, where they perform autopsies to determine the cause and manner of death. They also work in offices, where they review case files, write reports, and testify in court. Medical examiners typically work 40 hours per week, but they may be on call 24 hours a day and may work nights, weekends, and holidays. The work can be stressful, and medical examiners must be able to deal with the sight and smell of dead bodies. They must also be able to handle the emotional stress of dealing with the families of the deceased.

Medical Examiner Trends

Here are three trends influencing how medical examiners work. Medical examiners will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Use of Technology in Autopsies

The use of technology in autopsies is a trend that is quickly gaining popularity among medical examiners. This is due to the many benefits that it offers, such as improved efficiency and accuracy.

As technology continues to be used in autopsies, medical examiners will need to learn how to use these tools effectively in order to get the most out of them. This includes learning how to read data from devices such as CT scanners and DNA sequencers.

A Greater Focus on Preventative Medicine

The medical examiner profession is changing rapidly as more and more emphasis is being placed on preventative medicine. This means that medical examiners will need to focus on identifying potential health risks early on and developing strategies to prevent them from becoming serious problems.

In order to stay ahead of the curve, medical examiners will need to keep up with the latest research and developments in the field. They will also need to develop strong relationships with other healthcare professionals in order to collaborate on projects and share information.

More Collaboration Between Medical Examiners

Medical examiners are increasingly collaborating with each other in order to improve the quality of their work.

This trend is evident in the increasing number of conferences and workshops that are being held for medical examiners. These events provide an opportunity for medical examiners to network with one another and share ideas about best practices and new technologies.

How to Become a Medical Examiner

A career as a medical examiner (ME) can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s important to consider all the aspects of this job before making a decision.

One of the most important things to think about is whether you want to work in a private or public sector. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Working in the private sector may give you more flexibility in your hours, but it may also mean longer hours and less stability. Public MEs usually have more security and benefits, but they may also have more restrictions on their hours.

You should also consider what type of cases you want to work on. Some MEs specialize in certain types of cases, such as homicides or autopsies. Others prefer to work on a variety of cases. You should also think about how much time you want to spend in the field. Some MEs spend most of their time in the lab, while others spend more time in the field.

Advancement Prospects

Medical examiners typically have a bachelor’s degree in science, although some have a medical degree. A few states require certification by the American Board of Pathology.

Most medical examiners begin their careers as assistant medical examiners. With experience, they may advance to chief medical examiner or to a position in academia. Some medical examiners open their own private practices.

Medical Examiner Job Description Example

The [County/State] Office of the Medical Examiner is seeking a qualified medical examiner to join our team. The medical examiner is responsible for the investigation of all sudden, unexpected, and violent deaths in the county/state, as well as determining the cause and manner of death. The ideal candidate will have a medical degree (MD or DO) and be board certified in forensic pathology. He or she will have experience working with law enforcement and other agencies, and be able to effectively communicate findings to a non-medical audience. The medical examiner will work closely with the county/state coroner and other members of the office to ensure that all cases are thoroughly investigated and that families are provided with the answers they need.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Investigate the circumstances, manner, and cause of all violent, sudden, or unusual deaths occurring within the jurisdiction
  • Perform autopsies and examinations as needed to determine the cause and manner of death
  • Collect and preserve evidence from the scene of a death
  • Testify in court as an expert witness when necessary
  • Maintain detailed records and documentation of all cases, including autopsy reports, photographs, and toxicology results
  • Work with law enforcement officials, funeral directors, and family members as needed
  • Keep abreast of new developments and advancements in the field of forensic pathology
  • Attend conferences and seminars to maintain knowledge and skills
  • Serve on committees and working groups as needed
  • Participate in quality assurance and peer review activities
  • Prepare grant proposals to secure funding for operations and research
  • Supervise and train staff, residents, and students

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree
  • Completion of accredited forensic pathology residency program
  • Board certification in anatomic and clinical pathology by the American Board of Pathology
  • Eligible for medical licensure in the state where practicing
  • Thorough knowledge of autopsy techniques
  • Excellent communication skills

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Board certification in forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology
  • Experience working in a medical examiner’s office
  • Teaching experience
  • Research experience


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