Forensic Medical Examiner: Salary and Career Information

Forensic medical examiners are doctors who use a variety of sciences and gather data from autopsies to determine the most probable cause of death in cadavers. In many cases, medical examiners work to find what killed a person who was murdered or who suddenly or unexpectedly died.

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Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups forensic medical examiners in its category for compliance officers. The BLS reported in May 2012 that the top ten percent earned $97,760 or more a year. Job opportunities for compliance officers, including forensic medical examiners, were expected to be about average at 15% from 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov).

Career Information

Forensic medical examiners are doctors who determine the identity of a deceased person, as well as the time and cause of death. Through extensive formal training, examiners are able to gather information - such as data from toxicology reports, past medical records, evidence from police reports and results from lab tests - to piece together the cause of death and prepare a formal report of the autopsy's findings.

Examiners are usually employed by the state, government, military or medical schools. They are oftentimes subpoenaed to give an account of an autopsy's findings when a case goes to court.

Educational Requirements

In order to obtain a degree as a forensic medical examiner, students will complete more than eight years of schooling and training. Prospective examiners must complete a bachelor's degree, then move on to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) as well as complete a residency and licensing requirements.

Bachelor's Degree in Natural Science

There are a variety of undergraduate degree programs that prospective examiners can choose from, including health science, forensic science, chemistry and biology. Although students have the option to choose which bachelor's degree program to complete, there are similar courses that most students will study. These courses include:

  • Chemistry (including general, organic, analytical, physical, forensic and biochemistry)
  • Physical sciences
  • Laboratory techniques
  • Physics
  • Upper-level mathematics (including calculus I, II and III)

Doctor of Medicine

Although there is no specific medical degree program that is required to become a forensic medical examiner, prospective examiners will need to earn an M.D. Some institutions offer M.D. programs in pathology, which might appeal to the aspiring examiner. Most M.D. programs require the completion of a 3- to 4-year residency, in which students will gain hands-on experience under the supervision of experienced doctors performing autopsies and running lab tests.

Certifications

In order to practice in the medical field, graduates of medical school must pass a licensing test in all 50 states. Doctors also have the option of becoming board-certified, which requires additional time spent in residencies and passing an additional certification test. Specialty areas for certification that might be relevant to a medical examiner include anatomic, clinical and forensic pathology.

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