Medical Examiner Education, Schooling and Training Program Info

Sep 08, 2019

Medical examiners require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

The importance of the occupation of medical examiner to the fields of medicine and law cannot be overstated. They are responsible for determine cause of death in potentially criminal cases. As such, it isn't easy to become one. Training is extensive, intense and calls for long-term commitment.

Essential Information

Medical examiners are physicians who perform autopsies and tests to determine the cause and manner of suspicious, violent or sudden death. They often combine the duties of coroners and forensic pathologists to investigate the circumstances surrounding and leading to death. Those interested in becoming medical examiners must first become licensed medical doctors, which is a process that involves earning a medical school degree and participating in a medical residency. They then need to obtain additional specialized training in forensic pathology and earn the required medical examiner certification.

Required Education Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) with residency; specialized training program in forensic pathology
Other Requirements Physician licensure and medical examiner certification
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 7% for all physicians and surgeons
Average Salary (July 2019)** $196,987 annually for all medical pathologists

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Education Requirements

The education process for prospective medical examiners begins with a bachelor's degree, which can be in any subject, but is often in a scientific discipline. Some colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs in forensic science that provide an overview of areas in forensics that medical examiners use. Prerequisite undergraduate courses for entering medical school, the next step in becoming a medical examiner, often include organic chemistry, physics and biology.

Prospective medical examiners complete medical school to earn either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.). During medical school, students can major in various branches of medicine, including family practice, surgery or pathology. The majority of medical schools do not offer coursework in forensic pathology, although some offer it as an elective directly prior to graduation.

Training Programs

Specialized training in forensic pathology begins with a residency program after medical school. Forensic pathology residencies often involve 4-5 years of training in anatomic and clinical pathology followed by 1-2 years of specialized training in forensic pathology. Residency programs in anatomic and clinical pathology are supervised by licensed pathologists, often in a teaching hospital, university medical center or local healthcare institution. During this portion of residency training, students begin to perform autopsies and learn diagnostic laboratory procedures.

Forensic pathology training is supervised by a board-certified forensic pathologist, and it usually takes place at a state, county or city medical examiner's office. Students become a member of the office's forensics team and participate in death investigations. They learn how to give court testimony, perform postmortem testing and collect crime scene evidence. Following residency training and obtaining state medical licensure, medical examiners must become certified by the American Board of Pathology.

Once you complete your undergraduate work and have earned your M.D. or D.O. in any medical concentration, you can begin your training in forensic pathology. Training consists of a 4-5 year residency in clinical and anatomic pathology and a 1-2 year period of supervised training in forensic pathology. With your state medical license in hand, you are clear to earn American Board of Pathology certification.

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