Medical examiners are medical doctors who specialize in the study of human remains. These professionals commonly work for coroner’s offices, where they investigate deaths that may be the result of homicide or other suspicious circumstances. In addition to conducting autopsies and collecting evidence from the crime scene, they may also interview family members and examine police reports to determine a cause of death.
Medical examiners also often testify in court as expert witnesses to help determine what happened to cause a person’s death. They must be able to clearly explain their findings to the court and they must be able to provide compelling evidence that stands up under rigorous cross-examination.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a medical examiner and what it takes to become one yourself.
Medical Examiner Job Duties
Medical examiners typically perform the following duties:
- Perform autopsies on all bodies who may have died from sudden or violent deaths
- Use laboratory equipment such as microscopes and chemical reagents to test samples taken from the body
- Preserve and maintain evidence from crime scenes, including human remains and any other biological matter
- Identify unknown bodies through physical characteristics, dental records, fingerprints, DNA analysis, and other methods of identification
- Conduct tests to determine cause of death by analyzing wounds or injuries to organs or tissue samples
- Prepare reports that detail findings from examinations and investigations, as well as conclusions or recommendations about whether deaths were natural or unnatural or suspicious in nature
- Communicate with attorneys and law enforcement officers regarding findings to support legal proceedings
Medical Examiner Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for medical examiners is $76,444. Those earning higher wages tend to work in the federal government, and the highest earners of the profession are making over $152,000 per year.
The employment of medical examiners is projected to grow faster than average over the next decade as a result of population growth. There will also be a need for more examiners as baby boomers retire from this field.
Medical Examiner Job Requirements
The requirements for a medical examiner are as follows:
Education: A medical examiner should hold a degree in medicine or a related field. This degree should be from an accredited university. These programs include coursework in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and forensic pathology. Graduates then need to pass board exams before they can practice as a licensed medical examiner.
Training: All medical examiners must complete an internship or other training program after completing their education. These programs usually last between six months and two years and allow candidates to learn how to conduct autopsies and handle evidence. They may also provide medical examiners with the opportunity to work closely with experienced professionals.
Certifications & Licenses: Medical examiners are required to be licensed in the state where they are employed. They must pass an exam offered by the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI). They may also consider obtaining a certification through the American Board of Pathology.
Medical Examiner Skills
The following skills are required for this job:
Knowledge of human anatomy and physiology: Medical examiners must have a working knowledge of human anatomy and physiology in order to understand how various diseases, poisons, and other conditions affect the body.
Problem-solving skills: Medical examiners must be able to identify unusual or unexplained deaths in order to determine their cause.
Communication skills: This is a profession that requires constant communication with other medical professionals, law enforcement officials, families of the deceased, and others. It also involves regular contact with the media.
Detail oriented: Medical examiners must pay close attention to detail in order to make correct determinations about causes of death. They must also be able to take notes during autopsies in a manner that will allow them to easily recall what they observed later on.
Compassion: A strong sense of compassion is important because medical examiners often deal with people who are grieving over the loss of a loved one. In addition, many bodies arrive at the morgue after having been abused or mistreated in some way by criminals or natural disasters. Therefore, it’s important for medical examiners to remain professional and objective when dealing with such situations.
Research skills: A good medical examiner should possess excellent research skills in order to be able to locate relevant information regarding suspicious deaths.
Medical Examiner Work Environment
Medical examiners work in offices or laboratories. They spend much of their time sitting at a desk, reviewing records and case studies. Medical examiners may also conduct autopsies to try to determine the cause of death. A medical examiner’s job can be stressful. They must often evaluate the cause of death in cases involving violent crime, murder, or suicide. They are also occasionally called upon to testify about their findings during court proceedings and must travel to get there.
Medical examiners often work odd and long hours. Their schedules vary depending on the extent of their workloads, but they may work late shifts or overnight for any number of reasons.
Medical Examiner Career Path
Medical examiners are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Much of the work is done in the field, at the scene of death. New examiners may do autopsies on weekends. They may be called to work at any time and will spend a lot of time commuting. The hours can be long, but the job is interesting and challenging, and the pay is good.
Five Years Out
After five years, medical examiners have gained experience with each type of death scene and know how to handle most routine tasks. They also know what kinds of evidence to look for when they’re doing an autopsy. Some medical examiners specialize in particular areas, such as crime scene investigation or toxicology. These specialists may spend more time in the office or laboratory doing research than in the field. The level of responsibility increases, and some medical examiners may be supervising other employees.
Ten Years Out
After ten years, medical examiners are considered highly experienced in their field and may have received special training through seminars or classes conducted by outside organizations. They are very familiar with certain causes of death and how to recognize them under circumstances where it isn’t always obvious. At this point, they are often consulted when unusual deaths occur, give expert testimony in court, and teach others about their area of expertise. If their career has gone well, they should be able to choose their hours and work conditions.
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.
Increasing Need for Technological Literacy
It is not enough to be a specialist in a single field when entering the medical examiner profession today. Increasingly, there is an increased need for technologists and examiners to be able to leverage technology and other innovative tools in order to deliver high-quality work product in an efficient manner.
For example, newer equipment such as 3D scanners can help medical examiners scan bodies faster than ever before, while simultaneously helping to preserve bodies that might otherwise decompose or decay quickly.
Increase in the Use of Virtual Autopsies
Although many may find it strange, virtual autopsies are becoming increasingly popular with the advancement of new technologies that allow for greater accuracy.
For example, researchers at the University of Liverpool recently discovered that 3D models can be created using MRI scans of cadavers to replicate what happens to bodies during embalming procedures. These results could help forensic investigators gain better insight into how bodies decay after death and which organs can be used as evidence in criminal cases.
Increased Need for Collaboration
As the field of medicine becomes more specialized, it is becoming increasingly important for medical examiners to work with other professionals in order to solve complex cases.
For example, if a doctor finds an unusual mass on a patient’s lung, they may have to collaborate with the medical examiner in order to rule out potential causes of death that might require additional analysis by a forensic pathologist.
How to Become a Medical Examiner
1. Planning Your Career
Becoming a medical examiner is a long and rewarding career path. However, this is not the best career choice for those who are looking to have a flexible schedule or work from home.
Medical examiners are often required to travel around the country to examine the bodies of deceased individuals. If you’re thinking about working in this field, it’s important to understand that your role will involve examining the bodies of people of all ages. It can be emotionally draining to examine the bodies of deceased children, so it’s important to think about whether you would be able to handle this type of work on a regular basis.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for medical examiner positions focus on their experience and education. It’s important to emphasize your relevant skills and abilities like working with a team, communicating effectively, and having excellent organization skills.
When describing your work history include specific experiences such as managing projects or dealing with large volumes of data. You should also highlight any certifications, skills, or licenses that you have achieved since they are an indication of your commitment to continuing education and understanding of the job requirements.
3. Applying for Jobs
Before you start applying for jobs, it’s important to do your research. Check out professional associations and attend conferences and job fairs that relate to your specific career path. Also, consider contacting recruiters who work with Medical Examiners, and speak with them about how they find job candidates and help them land their next position.
Your application materials should be well-researched and professional, so spend time reading job descriptions and researching company websites so that you can target your applications appropriately. Remember that no matter what type of job you’re looking for, there will always be a written application process. Make sure that your writing skills are top-notch.
4. Ace the Interview
To prepare for a medical examiner interview, practice with a friend or family member, answering the kinds of questions you might be asked.
Your knowledge of anatomy and physiology will help you explain what you do, but it is important to show that you have a deep understanding of the field. Also, demonstrate how you would approach a case and bring new ideas to the job. Be sure to speak in a professional tone and dress appropriately for your interview.
You may also be asked how you would handle situations in which the cause of death was not immediately obvious or when you suspected foul play. One common question for medical examiners is how they would handle an autopsy on someone they knew personally. Prepare answers to these types of questions by looking up information on this profession beforehand, perhaps by reading books written by medical examiners or articles on the topic.