What Should I Major in to Become a Medical Examiner?

Jul 21, 2018

Medical examiners are physicians who must attend medical school and complete a residency. Undergraduate students can major in a natural science or a field like pathology. At the graduate level, students must earn a Doctor of Medicine degree and specialize in forensic pathology.

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  • 0:48 Undergraduate Majors
  • 1:32 Medical School
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  • 2:51 Forensic Pathology Residency
  • 3:23 Salary for Graduates

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Medical Examination Majors

Although there is no specific undergraduate major for medical examiners, these professionals must undergo extensive training, including earning a bachelor's degree and a medical degree, as well as participating in a residency and fellowship.

Medical examiners are trained forensic pathologists who are appointed to the position by local and/or state government officials. To become a forensic pathologist, it is necessary to earn a bachelor's degree and a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Prospective medical examiners must then complete an anatomic and clinical pathology residency followed by a forensic pathology fellowship.

Undergraduate Majors

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is no specific undergraduate major requirement for aspiring physicians. However, they do need to complete undergraduate coursework in certain subjects, such as:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Math
  • English
  • Humanities and social sciences

Because of the lab science requirements for medical school, many students choose to major in one of the sciences, but it is not necessary. Some students choose to major in forensic science, where they will complete coursework in organic chemistry, genetics, physics, pharmacology, statistics, quantitative analysis, and criminal justice.

Medical School

Because medical examiners are physicians, they must earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree from an accredited medical school. Medical school lasts for four years. The first two years are dedicated to classroom and laboratory studies in biomedical subjects and other healthcare-related topics. From there, medical students participate in rotations in many medical subfields, including pathology.

Pathology Residency

Anatomic and clinical pathology residencies last for four years. Residents get hands-on training in several areas of pathology through clinical rotations. Available pathology rotations include:

  • Autopsy pathology
  • Surgical pathology
  • Cytopathology
  • Forensic pathology and toxicology
  • Fine needle aspiration
  • Neuropathology
  • Cytogenics
  • Pediatric pathology

In the forensic pathology rotation, residents perform autopsies under the direction and supervision of experienced medical examiners. Gaining hospital autopsy experience may be required prior to completing the forensic pathology rotation. Alongside this practical training, residents also attend conferences and conduct research in particular areas of interest.

Forensic Pathology Residency

After completing the residency, aspiring medical examiners must complete a one-year fellowship in forensic pathology. This program provides the necessary preparation for the board examination offered by the American Board of Pathology. Fellows get the training they need for future medical examiner careers by performing hundreds of autopsies, participating in crime scene investigations, and preparing reports. They may also engage in academic conferences and journal discussions.

Salary for Graduates

According to, in March 2017 the median annual salary for forensic pathologists was $98,710. It is important to note that, in order to work as medical examiners, these professionals must be appointed to their position by government officials.

In order to become a medical examiner, it is necessary to earn a bachelor's degree, complete medical school, participate in a residency program, complete a forensic pathology fellowship, and be appointed to the position.

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