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Career Profile of a Forensic Medical Examiner

Job Descriptions December 6, 2012

Often, when a person is murdered, dies suddenly or unexpectedly, people employ medical examiners to find the cause of death. Determination of what caused the death of an individual through the utilization of various sciences and data gathered from autopsies is the primary responsibility of forensic medical examiners.

Wage Potential

As of 2010, forensic medical examiners took home an average annual salary of $250,000. This figure is as high as it appears because of the high level of required training and expertise for this career field. Job opportunities growth for forensic medical examiners is projected to remain consistently high during the period from 2008 to 2018 (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009; (

Career Information

When a person dies, forensic medical examiners work to determine the person, what caused them to die, and when the death transpired. They accomplish this by using data generated from lab tests, evidence from police reports, past medical records, and toxicology reports and other information they have been trained to collect. They summarize the cause of death in the form of a report from the findings of an autopsy.

Medical schools, the military, the federal government and state governments are among the chief employers of examiners. Very often, when a court hearing takes place, forensic medical examiners are required — by subpoenas, served for the purpose — to provide an explanation of the findings from an autopsy.

Educational Prerequisites

Earning a forensic medical examiner’s degree will require students to undergo over eight years of training and schooling. Aspiring examiners will need to obtain a bachelor degree and maintain their studies to include a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.); additionally, they will need to fulfill licensure and residency conditions.

Bachelor in Natural Science

Biology, chemistry, forensic science and health science are among the various undergraduate degree programs that aspiring forensic medical examiners can choose to enroll into. Although, students can opt for the bachelor degree program, most of them will need to complete equivalent coursework including Doctor of Medicine, higher level math (that includes calculus I, II and III), physics, lab techniques, physical sciences and chemistry (that could be biochemistry, forensic, physical, analytical, organic, and general).

An ambitious forensic medical examiner does not have to obtain a specific medical degree; however, holding an M.D. qualification is a mandatory requirement. M.D. programs in pathology are offered by some schools, and these programs may offer unique appeal to prospective examiners.

The completion of a residency of three to four years is an essential component of the M.D. programs. During such residency, prospective examiners can accumulate useful hands-on experience; such experience will include lab tests and autopsies performed under the supervision of an experienced doctor.

Certification Requirement

All fifty states make licensure imperative for medical school graduates who seek to practice medicine in the relevant states and they can obtain such license by passing a licensing test. Board certification is another option given to doctors that can be accomplished by completing certification exam apart from recording additional residency tenure. Forensic, clinical and anatomic pathology is relevant specialty certification areas for consideration by examiners.

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