How to Become a Medical Examiner

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Unfortunately many people in the United States pass away on a daily basis. In many circumstances the cause of death is unknown and highly trained professionals are required to perform tests and procedures to determine the cause of death. This is the job of medical examiners.


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What does a medical examiner do?

Medical examiners perform autopsies and conduct other tests and procedures to determine the cause of death of a variety of patients. They inspect bodies internally and externally and study the organs, cells, tissue, and body fluids to determine disease, illness, or injury and they analyze DNA and blood using different tools and equipment. Medical examiners conduct the necessary procedures and use information from medical records, internal and external autopsies, and circumstantial evidence to determine an accurate cause and time of death. Many medical examiners are essential to a variety of civil and criminal court cases and are often required to present their autopsy findings in reports and testimonials.

What kind of training does a medical examiner need?

Medical examiners must have an undergraduate degree in pre-medicine, pathology, or law or other related field. They also need a Doctor of Medicine degree and certification in pathology. Most medical school programs include two years of coursework including laboratory experience and two years of supervised direct patient care. After completion of medical school, aspiring medical examiners must complete a forensic pathology residency that typically takes 3 to 8 years to complete.

All states require medical examiners to be licensed pathologists. Licensing requirements typically include extensive work experience and passing a written examination. Medical examiners can also become board certified from the American Board of Pathology.

What are the prospects for a career as a medical examiner?

Employment of medical examiners is expected to grow faster than average for all professions, increasing 14% from 2006 to 2016 (1).

Job prospects are expected to be good especially for medical examiners with extensive experience. Job openings will also arise from the need to replace medical examiners that retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do medical examiners make?

As of October 2009, the average annual salary of medical examiners is $45,000; average annual salaries vary greatly on location, field, position, experience, and benefits (2).

A career as a medical examiner is an excellent choice for individuals who are interested in performing autopsies and other tasks to determine causes of death. Medical examiners must be able to handle a variety of unfavorable situations and must not be easily squeamish. Patience, good eye-hand coordination, determination, and perseverance are essential qualities of medical examiners. They must also be able to effectively work independently and as part of a team. Medical examiners must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills and be able to effectively present their reports to many different people. They must be able to work under pressure and stressful situations with time constraints.

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