Educational Requirements for Medical Examiners

Medical examiners must complete significant formal education including medical school and specialized residency training. Learn about the training, job duties, licensure and certification to see if this is the right career for you.

Medical examiners are physicians who typically work in morgues where they conduct autopsies. They are sometimes required to serve as expert witnesses in court proceedings. Becoming a medical examiner is quite a long journey, as it requires a college degree with pre-med courses, graduation from medical school and completion of a forensic pathology residency and fellowship program. These educational activities can take over a decade to complete.

Essential Information

Medical examiners are medical doctors who perform autopsies, run clinical tests and act as expert witnesses in cases of undetermined or violent deaths. Becoming a medical examiner typically requires completing prerequisite undergraduate coursework, medical school, a pathology residency and a forensic pathology fellowship, all of which takes a total of around 12-14 years.

Required Education Bachelor's degree (4 years)
Medical degree (4 years)
Pathology residency (3-4 years)
Forensic pathology fellowship (1-2 years)
Licensure & Certification State licensure required
Board certification desired by most employers
Other Requirements Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits to maintain licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 14% for all physicians and surgeons
Average Salary (2015)* $197,700 annually for all physicians and surgeons

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Medical Examiner Requirements

In order to become a medical examiner, individuals need to earn a medical degree such as a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. Before applying to medical school, students must first earn an undergraduate degree and complete pre-med prerequisites in chemistry, biology, organic chemistry, physics and mathematics.

Since medical examiners often run forensic exams on corpses, taking forensic pathology elective courses as an undergraduate could prove useful, especially since not all medical school programs offer extensive coursework in this field.

Most medical school programs are set up so that students spend the first two years in classroom lectures and the remaining two years in clinical rotations working with patients. Coursework in these programs include human health and disease, anatomy, immunology, pathology, medical technologies and healthcare law. During clinical rotations, medical students spend time training in different departments, such as pediatrics, surgery, neurology and ambulatory medicine.

Licensing Requirements

Upon completing medical school, individuals pursue residency and licensing in order to practice medicine. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), licensing procedures in all states involve passing an exam, such as the United States Medical Licensing Examination. This exam is divided into three different sections, including clinical knowledge, clinical skills and practical applications of scientific medical concepts.

Postgraduate Training

After completing medical school, individuals who want to become medical examiners require specific training that can be achieved through a residency program related to anatomic or forensic pathology. Residency programs allow doctors to specialize in a particular field, and some residency programs can take up to seven years or more to complete.

Anatomic and clinical pathology residencies take about 3-4 years and forensic pathology fellowship training takes about 1-2 years. These programs cover such topics as identification of suspicious markings or substances during autopsies, the respectful treatment of remains and common procedures during a forensic autopsy examination.

Medical Examiner Certification Requirements

Following a residency training program, medical examiners can choose to become certified. Several nationally recognized organizations provide medical examiners with credentials that certify them in various medical specialties related to their jobs. For example, the American Board of Pathology has certification and specialty certification programs for anatomic and forensic pathology.

Most credential-granting boards require applicants to pass an examination to become certified. Credentialed workers usually keep their certifications active by participating in continued education courses or seminars.

Salary and Employment Outlook

Medical examiners are specialty-trained physicians with many years of post-medical school residency and fellowship training and experience. According to the BLS, physicians and surgeons earned a mean salary of $197,700 in 2015. The need for physicians and surgeons generally is expected to grow at a rate of 14%, which is faster than average, between 1014 and 2024.

The medical examiner undergoes lengthy training and schooling to obtain the expertise and experience needed in their career. They must be licensed int their state, and possibly attain certification as well. Once they finish their education, a fruitful salary awaits them.

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