It is impossible to become a medical examiner through online study only, but some undergraduate degree programs are offered online. Individuals anticipating careers as medical examiners can begin their training with bachelor's degree programs in chemistry or forensic science. Both these programs offer hands-on training in research and investigation - skills that a medical examiner needs. Forensic bachelor's degree programs are available completely online. Chemistry bachelor's degree programs cannot be completed entirely online, but many of the courses in the programs are offered through distance learning.
After earning their undergraduate degree, future medical examiners move on to medical school, where they spend four years learning the basics of patient care and taking courses such as anatomy and medical ethics. Applicants must have qualifying MCAT scores and an undergraduate degree in a related field. After leaving medical school, they will complete a pathology fellowship that offers training as a medical examiner. All physicians, including medical examiners, must be licensed by the state where they practice.
Bachelor of Science in Chemistry
Students who want to pursue a career as a medical examiner may want to consider an undergraduate degree in chemistry. Many bachelor's degree programs in chemistry often have concentrations in either forensic science or criminology. These programs instill a thorough knowledge of organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry as it pertains to forensic science study. Students must have a high-school diploma or GED equivalency to be accepted into the program.
Information and Requirements
The average length of a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry is 120 semester hours, and can be completed in four years. While these programs are not available in fully online formats, many programs do offer online courses in on-campus programs. These online courses are administered through online learning platforms, such as Blackboard or Moodle. Students can communicate with instructors and peers through online discussion boards and web forums.
In addition to a high-speed Internet connection, students need an up-to-date computer. Course material is often delivered via streaming videos and downloadable lectures; therefore, audio and video capabilities are typically required.
Common Bachelor of Science in Chemistry
Bachelor's degree programs have general education requirements built into the curriculum that include courses in English, mathematics, social sciences and humanities. Within online chemistry courses, students are trained in the elements and compounds, as well as how these combine to create matter.
Fundamentals of Chemistry
Students are introduced to the fundamental principles of chemistry. Topics include atoms, molecules, moles, gas behavior, chemical equations, nuclear equations, atomic structure, intermolecular attractive forces, thermodynamics, kinetics, equilibrium, acids, bases and electrochemistry. This course is commonly delivered over two semesters.
The primary families of organic compounds are the focus of this course. Students study the arrangement and reactions of these compounds, as well as the physical and chemical properties of each. Further topics include alcohols, alkanes, stereochemistry, organic instrumentation, aldehydes, amines and phenols.
Course topics include the analyses of measurement as it pertains to weight, volume, electricity and light. Further course content includes precipitate stability, solubility, quantitative precipitation, the Beer-Lampert law and the Nernst equation.
Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Science
Prospective medical examiners can complete a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice or a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Forensic Science. This program prepares students to work as forensic professionals by enabling them to identify, collect and analyze physical evidence from crime scenes. Further concepts learned in this program include psychology, crime reduction, law, terrorism and social influences as they pertain to criminal behavior and justice.
Information and Requirements
Most bachelor's degrees in criminal justice can be earned in four years, if students are enrolled in a full-time course sequence. These programs are available in fully online formats. Course material is delivered via websites, live lectures and downloadable multimedia. Communication is facilitated through online discussion boards and instant messenger.
Students need a computer and Internet connection to access online learning platforms. Videoconferencing and real-time lectures may require a headset and webcam. Students may also need access to a printer and fax machine.
Within the forensic science concentration, students are taught to examine crime scenes for forensic evidence, such as blood or DNA. They also learn the proper techniques for presenting their findings.
The focus of this course is on the fundamentals of criminal investigation. Physical evidence topics in the identification, extraction, assignment and analysis of samples are discussed. Evidence samples include chemicals, bodily fluids, hair, fingerprints, ballistics and serial number identification.
Legal Regulations in Forensic Science
This course is centered on the legal burden of proof that forensic scientists must accumulate when investigating crime scenes. Students examine the current regulations, as well as historical practices. Emphasis is placed on the quality control that all forensic scientists must exact on their work to ensure quality, legal evidence.
The identification and gathering of digital evidence is the focus of this course. Topics in computer-based investigation include electronic forensic methods, incident response policies and proper digital documentation.
Doctor of Medicine
Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree programs are widely available for prospective students who want to pursue a medical examiner career path. Admission into these programs is usually highly competitive. Prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree in a field of study that encompasses chemistry, biology, physics, humanities, English or mathematics. Prospective students also need to achieve a qualifying score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Through developing mastery in clinical knowledge, patient care, communication techniques, clinical practice and cultural understanding, students are prepared to become leaders in the medical community upon graduation.
Information and Requirements
The length of time required to complete an M.D. degree program is typically four years not including specialized fellowships, such as pathology. The first two years consist of standard courses, while the final two years consist of clerkships, capstone projects and clinical practice experience. These programs are offered in an on-campus residency format only; students cannot complete coursework online.
In addition to standard coursework and clinical field practice, many M.D. programs also offer students the opportunity to complete field internships at area medical institutions.
Critical Thinking in Medicine
This course provides students with a context and structure to organize the information that they must understand, recall and integrate into their study and future practice. Skills developed in this course include research, computer fluency, written and spoken communication, biostatistics, epidemiology, evaluation and analysis of diagnoses, decision-making and test result analysis.
This course approach is twofold; students focus on both physician-patient relationships, as well as the relationship between physicians and society as a whole. Students gain an understanding of the biopsychological context of patient encounters, and the methods used to maximize health promotion and reduce risks. Students also develop an understanding of ethics, public health, health policy and legal regulations that influence their future interactions with the surrounding community.
Clerkship in Surgery
This clerkship is structured to educate non-surgical physicians to recognize when patient conditions require surgical consultation, as well as to instruct physicians in the fundamental practices of surgical practice. Coursework is divided between classroom study and integrative practice in surgical rotation.
Graduates of these degree programs are prepared to find employment as medical examiners and coroners. According to Payscale.com, the salary range for a coroner was between $17,000 and $99,000 in July 2019.
Continuing Education Information
Graduates of an M.D. program who wish to pursue a career as a medical examiner need to complete a pathology fellowship with a forensic pathology rotation through a county medical examiner's office. Fellowships in pathology are usually 4-year programs, and the forensic pathology rotations can last several months. In these rotations, students perform daily autopsies on decedents, with the exception of homicide cases, where they survey professional medical examiners.
Students who aspire to become medical examiners may obtain a bachelor's degree in chemistry or forensic science, although forensic science programs are the only programs available fully online. Medical examiners must have a doctoral degree in medicine, complete a forensic pathology rotation and be licensed by the state.