Steps to Becoming a Medical Examiner in the U.S.

Aug 12, 2018

A medical examiner is a practitioner of forensic pathology who is legally appointed to certify and investigate the circumstances of deaths that don't appear related to natural causes. Unlike a coroner, a medical examiner is legally required to be a medical doctor with a certification in forensic pathology from the American Board of Pathology.

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Should I Become a Medical Examiner?

Medical examiners conduct autopsies and investigate deaths. These professionals must attend medical school after attaining a bachelor's degree. In addition to residency training, aspiring medical examiners need experience in forensic pathology. Preparing for a career as a medical examiner requires years of education and experience.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; Medical school
Degree Field Anatomy; biology
Experience 4 years of residency training; at least 1 year of fellowship program in forensic pathology
Certification Board-certified by the American Board of Pathology
Training Laboratory training; practical training under supervising physicians; residency training
Salary $90,000 per year (Median salary as of May 2017)


Let's trace the steps to become a medical examiner.

Steps to Become a Medical Examiner

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring medical examiners may find it beneficial to pursue their bachelor's degrees with medical school in mind. This may entail taking courses on such subjects as anatomy, statistics, and cell biology, which will prepare them for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and for encountering the medical school curriculum.

Step 2: Complete Medical School

Medical college applicants may be required to submit their MCAT scores, letters of recommendation and college transcripts. They may also be required to apply to the American Medical College Application Service and interview with the college before being considered for admission.

Medical students may expect to confront a rigorous basic science curriculum composed of such courses as anatomy, physiology, and immunology. Students may also be required to undergo rigorous laboratory training and lectures in clinical fundamentals, such as patient care, ethics and comprehensive medicine. In the last few years of medical school, students may gradually transition from strict academic settings to more realistic settings, often treating and diagnosing real-life patients under the instruction of practicing doctors.

Step 3: Fulfill Residency Requirements

After medical school, graduates may be expected to undergo four years of residency training at hospitals and clinics. Aspiring medical examiners, in particular, may be required to base their residency training in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology or both. During this period, medical residents may undergo real-life training in such areas as autopsy, pathology, and medical microbiology. They may also be required to conduct research and conference frequently with supervising physicians in such areas as autopsy and pathology.

Step 4: Acquire Forensic Pathology Fellowship

After completing residency requirements, aspiring medical examiners may be required to accumulate at least another year's worth of experience and knowledge through fellowship programs in forensic pathology. These programs may require fellows to conduct autopsies, investigate actual deaths, attend professional conferences, and work with the staff of a local medical examiner's office.

Step 5: Obtain Board Certification

In order for prospective medical examiners to be board-certified by the American Board of Pathology, they may be required to submit an application for certification in addition to passing a certifying exam. This examination is administered in one day and is computer-based. Candidates may be required to master such areas as pathology, molecular biology, injury interpretation, and odontology.

Step 6: Continue Education

Credentialed medical examiners can keep their certifications active, and expand career possibilities, by participating in continued education classes or seminars. The American Medical Association (AMA) offers continuing medical education with online learning webinars for physicians.

To recap, aspiring medical examiners should attend medical school, participate in a four-year residency, and complete at least a one-year fellowship in forensic pathology.

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