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Medical Examiner and Coroner Professions Video: Training and Educational Requirements

Medical Examiner and Coroner Professions Video: Training and Educational Requirements Transcript

On television and in movies, coroners and medical examiners are often portrayed as a small part of the forensic science process. They are usually shown providing assistance to police officers. In reality it is the law enforcement officials who assist the medical examiner and coroner in determining cause of death. The coroner or medical examiner is ultimately responsible for signing a death certificate and ruling a death as accidental, natural or criminal. A medical degree with specialties in forensics and pathology provides the greatest career opportunities for anyone interested in this field.


While the titles of medical examiner and coroner are commonly used interchangeably, the positions have distinct differences. Medical examiners are licensed physicians who are board certified in pathology and forensic medicine. Coroners may also be medical examiners, but their duties revolve around coordinating the activities of police officers, pathologists and forensic scientists in order to solve unexplained deaths and determine if a criminal investigation is necessary. A medical degree is required to become a medical examiner, while a bachelor's degree may be sufficient to become a coroner.

Job Duties and Skills

Deaths that occur under suspicious circumstances or are believed to be a result of foul play are investigated by a medical examiner or coroner. An autopsy, toxicology panel and other tests are used to make the final determination of the cause of death. A medical examiner, who is always a pathologist, usually performs the autopsy. A coroner, who is not necessarily a doctor, may perform the autopsy themselves or may contact a pathologist to perform the examination.

Autopsies are used to determine the cause of death, approximate time of death and to discover other clues that can help police officers in their investigation. For example, an autopsy may reveal a murder victim's last meal, which can lead detectives to a restaurant where more clues may be discovered. In turn, detectives provide medical examiners and coroners with information that can help determine the cause or nature of the death.

Coroners, whose duties are generally more supervisory, will oversee the medical investigation of a death. In addition to reviewing autopsy reports, they will also use toxicology reports, medical records and other information to make a determination as to the nature of the death. If a death is confirmed as foul play, the criminal investigation is continued.

Both medical examiners and coroners are often called upon to testify in court as to their findings, methodologies and practices. They should be detail oriented and prepared to record all information no matter how minor, to preserve the chain of evidence. Medical examiners often work nights and weekends, as time is of the essence when crimes have been committed.

Training Required

It is becoming more common for medical examiners to also act as coroners. The greatest career opportunities will be available to those who have a medical degree and who qualify for medical examiner positions.

An undergraduate degree in chemistry, biology or another scientific field is required for admittance to a Medical Doctorate (M.D.) program. After graduation, students can pursue a residency in pathology and additional studies in forensic science. It may take over five years beyond completion of the Medical Doctorate program to be prepared to pass the certification exam offered by the American Board of Pathology.

Once established as a licensed physician with experience in pathology and forensic science, you will be prepared for a position as a medical examiner or a coroner. Additional training may be required after securing a position, often in emerging forensic pathology techniques and technologies.

Career Options

Coroners and medical examiners are either elected or appointed officials. Depending on city, county and state regulations, they may serve for terms of a few years or even for life. Because of this, positions do not open up frequently. Many medical examiners begin their careers as forensic pathologists, building their skills until they are able to find a suitable position as a medical examiner or coroner. This often requires relocation to an area with a vacant position that must be filled.

Since medical examiners are medical doctors, they have a great variety of career options outside of forensic work. They may work as a pathologist in a hospital, clinical or research setting.


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