How to Become a Medical Examiner Nurse Investigator

Jul 21, 2018

Find out how to become a medical examiner nurse investigator. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in medical forensic investigations.

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  • 0:03 Medical Examiner Nurse…
  • 1:14 Career Requirements
  • 2:06 Steps to This Career

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Medical Examiner Nurse Investigator

Medical examiner nurse investigators assist medical examiners or coroners with determining causes of death. Other job titles for this career include forensic nurse investigator, medicolegal death investigator, or death investigator. Generally, nurse investigators only work on cases where the deaths are considered unusual, unexpected, or potential homicides. Each county has different rules regarding the duties of nurse investigators. Common duties include verifying identities of deceased individuals, examining the crime or death scene, collecting evidence, contacting family members of the deceased, conducting interviews with all persons involved, analyzing evidence, and writing reports about each death investigation.

The duties of this occupation may require day, night, evening, weekend, holiday, or on-call hours. These professionals work in the lab and on-site, collecting evidence. Medical examiner nurse investigators work with law enforcement and related professionals on the scene. In some cases, workers in this occupation may be subject to physical, environmental, or biological hazards, and so precautions are taken.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Vocational diploma or undergraduate degree
Degree Field Nursing, law enforcement, forensics, criminal justice, or pathology
Licensure and/or Certification Registered nursing license, voluntary certification related to forensics or death investigations
Experience 1-4 years' experience in nursing and/or 1-4 years' experience in crime scene investigations, clinical forensics, or medical investigations
Key Skills Ability to communicate with law enforcement and civilians, comfortable collaborating with other medical personnel, strong organizational skills, able to work under pressure, pay strong attention to detail, analyze problems and make rational decisions, knowledge of medical equipment and safety standards; observation and recording skills are essential
Salary (2015) $67,490 (median for registered nurses)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Government job postings, U.S. Department of Justice

Steps to This Career

There are several steps to becoming a medical examiner nurse investigator.

Step 1: Become a Registered Nurse

Several educational paths exist for becoming a registered nurse, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Individuals can either complete diploma programs, associate degree programs, or bachelor's degree programs in nursing. Students can usually complete associate degree or diploma programs in less than three years, but it will take an average of four years to complete bachelor's degree programs in nursing, per the BLS.

Regardless of diploma or degree level, common course topics in the field of nursing may include physiology, pharmacology, anatomy, microbiology, nursing skills, and professional development. Many programs also require students to complete clinical internship hours at medical facilities. Internship opportunities may include work in pediatrics, mental illness, emergency rooms, or public health.

It's possible to begin preparing for this career while still enrolled in a postsecondary school program. Take forensic nursing classes. Some employers prefer nurse investigator applicants who possess knowledge of medical forensics. Some 4-year nursing programs may offer concentration options in forensic nursing. Topics in this field may include identifying assault and sexual abuse, evidence collection, investigation procedures, and death investigations.

Step 2: Get State Nursing License

Each state nursing board regulates the licensing requirements that each candidate must meet. Some common requirements may include getting fingerprinted, proving citizenship, completing accredited registered nursing training programs, and passing a national nursing exam. The majority of states require license applicants to pass the NCLEX national nursing exam, which is offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

According to the NCSBN's test plan for the NCLEX-RN (registered nurse) exam, individuals will be asked questions in several major nursing areas. These areas may include safe and effective care environment, nursing process, management of care, medical documentation, infection control, health promotion, and safety procedures. Exams are offered on computers. Some questions are multiple-choice and others require a short response.

Step 3: Build Related Experience

Employers of medical examiner nurse investigators may prefer candidates who possess related experience in forensics, pathology, law enforcement, or medical investigations. Many of these same employers would also accept candidates who had worked as registered nurses for at least one year, though professionals without previous law enforcement or forensic experience may have to complete medicolegal training after being hired.

Step 4: Consider Voluntary Certification

There are several national organizations for forensic nurses, and some of these organizations offer certification programs. For example, the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) provides certification to professionals who possess knowledge and training in the field of death and scene investigations. Individuals who earn ABMDI certification prove that they understand the National Institute of Justice's standards for death investigations, qualifying them for a greater number of jobs and opportunities for advancement.

Medical examiner nurse investigators must fulfill the requirements for a registered nursing career: an approved nursing diploma or degree program, followed by state licensure. Law enforcement or forensic experience can improve job prospects, as can voluntary professional certifications.

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