How to Become a Medical Examiner in the USA

Death is unsettling concept for a lot of people and they tend to shy away from all things related to it. Medical examiners on the other hand make a living through examining dead bodies. They work closely with law enforcement officers to determine the cause of unexpected or suspicious deaths, and make autopsy reports. The medical examiner employs various data sources to make a conclusive autopsy report including lab tests, previous medical records of the deceased, police reports, and toxicology reports. There are, however, strict educational, training and certification requirements for this career path.

What Does a Medical examiner do?

The job description of a medical examiner includes the following:

  • Conducting autopsies in cases of unnatural death, unknown causes of death, or sudden or suspicious death in police custody
  • Examining tissue samples and identifying presence of drugs or other foreign substances in the deceased’s body
  • Making a positive identification of the deceased
  • Determining the time of death
  • Drafting a post mortem report summarizing the cause of death
  • Providing expert testimony in cases where the autopsy results lead to criminal or civil suits
  • Ensuring proper compliance with the legal and procedural requirements for autopsies
  • Making sure the chain of evidence is respected


There are certain educational, training, licensing and certification requirements for a career as a medical examiner. These include:

  • A bachelor’s degree in the field of forensic science, biology, chemistry, pathology or health science
  • A Doctor of Medicine degree
  • A three-to-four year residency program under the instruction of a trained doctor, taken during medical studies
  • Passing a state administered licensing exam to practice medicine
  • Passing a national certification exam offered by the American Board of Pathology


You also need the following skills

  • Sharp analytical skills to effectively evaluate tests and reports and deliver a conclusive report as to cause of death and other pertinent
  • Excellent communication skills when giving court testimonies


The place of employment, crime incidence and experience of a medical examiner determine salary level. However, because medical examiners require a doctorate, their salaries are relatively high.

Entry Level



Mid Career



20 percent discount
20 percent discount




 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The best paying states for medical examiners include Mississippi, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and Idaho.

Work Environment

Medical examiners usually work in morgues, hospitals and other healthcare facilities that store dead bodies. The work environment of medical examiners is usually cold and somber owing to the nature of their work. Medical examiners also travel to crime scenes to gather necessary evidence. They work with various tools including forceps, body saws and scales while conducting autopsies. Medical examiners may be subject to a demanding work schedule and can work long hours or during the weekends.

Career Growth and Job Prospects

Between 2012 and 2022, statistics reveal that employment in the medical industry will increase by 18%. This growth rate is higher than most industries. Medical examiners have a lucrative job market in metropolitan areas and places with a high crime incidence.  

If you have the relevant educational qualification, training, certification requirements and passion for this career, you shouldn’t hesitate to pursue it.

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