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What Does a Medical Examiner Do?

A medical examiner is a highly skilled physician that also works outside of clinical settings. Learn what a medical examiner does & the training involved.
Medical Examiner: Job Roles and Training
Medical Examiner: Job Roles and Training

Table of Contents

There are a lot of different professionals that work within the death care industry. A person who can play a critical role after a death is the medical examiner. 

But what does a medical examiner do exactly? In this blog post we’re exploring the job roles and responsibilities of a medical examiner as well as the training that’s required to enter the profession. 

Medical Examiner Job Roles and Responsibilities 

Let’s demystify the job of a medical examiner. Some people confuse the job of medical examiners and coroners, however, they are two distinctly different roles. 

Medical Examiners and Forensic Pathologists

A medical examiner is a licensed physician that oversees the Medical Examiner’s Office for a jurisdiction as well as the work of its forensic pathologists. A pathologist is a medical profession that specializes in pathology, which is the study of disease and afflictions within body fluids and tissue. Forensic pathology is a sub-specialty in which forensic pathologists work with law enforcement to determine the cause of a death whenever it is sudden, suspicious or violent. They can figure out if someone was poisoned, injured or died from natural causes.

All medical examiners are forensic pathologists, but not all forensic pathologists are medical examiners. This is because being a medical examiner is a specific job title for a forensic pathologist that works for the government (usually at the local county level) and runs the whole death investigation process. They are essentially managers on top of being forensic pathologists. 

Autopsies and Investigative Work 

What’s so unique about the job of a medical examiner, and the forensic pathologists they manage, is that they aren’t just physicians. They’re also investigators. 

The top priority for medical examiners is assisting law enforcement in determining a cause of death when it is unknown. Medical examiners make the determination based on various methods. One of the most well known methods that they use is autopsies. 

Performing autopsies is what really sets medical examiners and forensic pathologists apart from other medical professionals, including general pathologists. If a physical examination and review of medical records isn’t enough for a medical examiner to identify a cause of death, then an autopsy will be performed. The extent of the autopsy varies based on the circumstances. 

Want to know more about how autopsies are performed? Then check out this article all about autopsies to learn what’s involved. 

Other investigative job duties of medical examiners include:

  • Examining a crime scene or crime scene photos
  • Doing visual physical examinations
  • Reviewing medical records and documents
  • Conducting toxicology and laboratory tests
  • Analyzing autopsy and lab results
  • Providing expert testimonies in court
  • Creating reports with the findings

The Administrative Work of Medical Examiners

The investigative work is just one part of being a medical examiner. The other main aspect of the job is running the Medical Examiner’s Office, which requires administrative work. Administrative responsibilities can include: 

  • Educating and training pathologists
  • Hiring forensic pathologists
  • Ensuring the facility is properly equipped
  • Creating schedules
  • Evaluating the work of pathologists in the office

Representing the Medical Examiner’s Office

Something that few physicians will be responsible for is representing a department, but that’s a requirement for medical examiners. They are the embodiment of the entire office and are held accountable for how the Medical Examiner’s Office is perceived by the general public. As such, the medical examiner will be the one: 

  • Giving interviews
  • Attending events outside of the office 
  • Working directly with leadership in other departments
  • Providing the public with information

As you can see, the responsibilities of a medical examiner are extensive and varied. They are part physician, part investigator, part manager and part PR specialist. 

How can someone become qualified for such a multifaceted career? Keep reading to find out. 

Training That’s Required to Become a Medical Examiner

Becoming a medical examiner takes a fair amount of time and effort. As mentioned above, a medical examiner is a physician so the training is going to begin in medical school. 

Earning a Medical Degree

You can’t become a forensic pathologist or medical examiner if you aren’t a qualified physician first. That means you have to earn a medical degree from an accredited university. Do to so you’ll need to complete a bachelors program then be accepted into a medical school program. It generally takes four years to complete medical school. 

Getting Certified as a Forensic Pathologist

Now that a person is a physician they can begin the process of specializing in pathology. But not just any pathology, forensic pathology. That is a four step process that involves:

  • Completing a Anatomic and Clinical Pathology (AP/CP) or anatomic pathology residency program
  • Completing a forensic pathology fellowship program
  • Getting board certification in AP/CP or anatomic pathology 
  • Becoming board eligible in forensic pathology

The forensic pathology training is focused on the skills and knowledge that are needed to assist in death investigations. Forensic sciences that are learned include:

  • Comparing witness testimony to physical injuries
  • DNA technology
  • Firearms examination
  • Forensic serology
  • Performing autopsies
  • Reviewing the scene of the death
  • Toxicology 

Experience and Abilities

Of course, there are some aspects of being a medical examiner that aren’t covered in a college course or residency programs. Many of the managerial and public relations skills that are needed come from life experience and natural ability. A medical examiner also needs to have a knack for juggling numerous tasks and be able to handle the pressures of the job. 

Becoming a Medical Examiner

A unique aspect of being a medical examiner is the fact that they aren’t hired. A medical examiner is appointed. For example, the Travis County medical examiner that serves the Austin, TX metro is appointed by the Travis County Commissioners Court. 

That means even if you become a forensic pathologist there’s no guarantee you’ll become a medical examiner. 

At Cremation.Green we work directly with medical examiner offices whenever necessary to ensure the funeral services go as seamlessly as possible. The family doesn’t have to worry about coordinating with the office because we’ll make all of the arrangements for you.

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Marlaena Gonzales

Funeral Director
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