Forensic Medical Examiner: Salary and Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a forensic medical examiner. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about the training, job duties, and licensing to find out if this is the right career for you.

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Forensic medical examiners perform autopsies to determine the identity and cause of death of deceased individuals. They usually have a bachelor's degree in the natural sciences in addition to an M.D. degree. They also need to complete a residency and obtain medical licensing in order to practice.

Essential Information

Forensic medical examiners are usually doctors who use a variety of sciences in order to gather data from autopsies to determine the most probable cause of death. In many cases, medical examiners work to find out what killed a person died under unexpected or criminally suspicious circumstances. This job requires a bachelor's degree in a natural science field, followed by an M.D. degree, though it's important to note that some jurisdictions don't require professional medical training for these examiners.

Additionally, candidates must then complete a 3-4 year residency, followed by obtaining a national license to practice medicine. Optional specialty certifications are also available. This career field might appeal to individuals with interests in medical sciences, criminal investigation, and the legal system.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in natural science field
M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) degree
Additional Requirements 3-4 year residency
Medical licensing
Additional Recommendations Specialty area certification
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% for all compliance officers
Median Wage (2015)* $65,640 annually for all compliance officers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups forensic medical examiners in its category for compliance officers. The BLS reported the May 2015 median annual salary for this group as $65,640. Job opportunities for compliance officers, including forensic medical examiners, were expected to be slower than average at 3% from 2014-2024.

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Career Information

Forensic medical examiners are doctors who determine the identity of a deceased person, as well as the time and cause of death. Through extensive formal training, examiners are able to gather information - such as data from toxicology reports, past medical records, evidence from police reports, and results from lab tests - to piece together the cause of death and prepare a formal report of the autopsy's findings.

Examiners are usually employed by the state, government, military, or medical schools. They are often subpoenaed to give an account of an autopsy's findings when a case goes to court.

Educational Requirements

In order to obtain a degree as a forensic medical examiner, students must complete more than eight years of schooling and training. Prospective examiners must complete a bachelor's degree, then move on to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) as well as complete a residency and licensing requirements.

Bachelor's Degree in Natural Science

There are a variety of undergraduate degree programs that prospective examiners can choose from, including health science, forensic science, chemistry, and biology. Although students have the option to choose which bachelor's degree program to complete, there are similar courses that most students will study. These courses include:

  • Chemistry (including general, organic, analytical, physical, forensic, and biochemistry)
  • Physical sciences
  • Laboratory techniques
  • Physics
  • Upper-level mathematics (including calculus I, II and III)

Doctor of Medicine

Although there is no specific medical degree program that is required to become a forensic medical examiner, prospective examiners will need to earn an M.D. Some institutions offer M.D. programs in pathology, which might appeal to the aspiring examiner. Most M.D. programs require the completion of a 3- to 4-year residency, in which students will gain hands-on experience under the supervision of experienced doctors performing autopsies and running lab tests.


In order to practice in the medical field, graduates of medical school must pass a licensing test in all 50 states. Doctors also have the option of becoming board-certified, which requires additional time spent in residencies and passing an additional certification test. Specialty areas for certification that might be relevant to a medical examiner include anatomic, clinical, and forensic pathology.

Those who are interested in becoming a forensic medical examiner should start by earning a bachelor's degree in natural sciences. Afterwards, they must continue to earn a M.D. degree, complete a 3-4 year long residency, and pass a medical licensing test. They may also choose to pursue board certification and any specialization relevant to their career plans.

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