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Educational Requirements for Medical Examiners

Medical examiners require significant formal education. Learn about the training, job duties, licensure and certification to see if this is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Medical examiners are medical doctors who perform autopsies, run clinical tests and act as expert witnesses in cases of undetermined or violent deaths. Becoming a medical examiner typically requires completing prerequisite undergraduate coursework, medical school, pathology residency, and forensic pathology fellowship, all of which takes around 12-14 years.

Required Education Prerequisite undergraduate courses (2-4 years)
Medical school (4 years)
Pathology residency (3-4 years)
Forensic pathology fellowship (1-2 years)
Licensure & Certification State licensure required
Board certification desired by most employers
Other Requirements Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit to maintain licensure
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 5% for all compliance officers
Average Salary (2013) $66,770 annually for all compliance officers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Medical Examiner Requirements

In order to become a medical examiner, individuals need to earn a medical degree such as a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. Before applying to medical school, students must first earn an undergraduate degree and complete pre-med prerequisites in chemistry, biology, organic chemistry, physics and mathematics.

Since medical examiners often run forensics exams on corpses, taking forensic pathology elective courses as an undergraduate could prove useful, especially since not all medical school programs offer extensive coursework in this field.

Most medical school programs are set up so that students spend the first two years in classroom lectures and the remaining two years in clinical rotations working with patients. Coursework in these programs include human health and disease, anatomy, immunology, pathology, medical technologies and healthcare law. During clinical rotations, medical students spend time training in different departments, such as pediatrics, surgery, neurology and ambulatory medicine.

Licensing Requirements

Upon completing medical school, individuals pursue residency and licensing in order to practice medicine. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), licensing procedures in all states involve passing an exam, such as the United States Medical Licensing Examination (www.bls.gov). This exam is divided into three different sections, including clinical knowledge, clinical skills and practical applications of scientific medical concepts.

Postgraduate Training

After completing medical school, individuals who want to become medical examiners require specific training that can be achieved through a residency program related to anatomic or forensic pathology. Residency programs allow doctors to specialize in a particular field, and some residency programs can take up to seven years or more to complete.

Anatomic and clinical pathology residencies take about 3-4 years and forensic pathology fellowship training takes about 1-2 years. These programs cover such topics as identification of suspicious markings or substances during autopsies, the respectful treatment of remains and common procedures during a forensic autopsy examination.

Medical Examiner Certification Requirements

Following a residency training program, medical examiners can choose to become certified. Several nationally recognized organizations provide medical examiners with credentials that certify them in various medical specialties related to their jobs. For example, the American Board of Pathology has certification and specialty certification programs for anatomic and forensic pathology.

Most credential-granting boards require applicants to pass an examination to become certified. Credentialed workers usually keep their certifications active by participating in continued education courses or seminars.

Salary and Employment Outlook

Though a pathology-trained medical doctor has the potential to make much more, the BLS groups medical examiners among 'compliance officers' who made an average salary of $66,770 as of May, 2013. According to the BLS, compliance officers were projected to see a 5% job growth from 2012 to 2022.

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    Areas of study you may find at Harvard University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
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    • Tennessee (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Vanderbilt University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics