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How to Become a Medical Examiner Nurse Investigator

Find out how to become a medical examiner nurse investigator. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in medical forensic investigations.

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Do I Want to Be a Medical Examiner Nurse Investigator?

Nurse investigators assist medical examiners or coroners with determining how some people died. Other job titles for this career include forensic nurse investigator, medicolegal death investigator or death investigator. Generally, nurse investigators only work on cases where the deaths are considered unusual, unexpected or potential homicides. Each county has different rules regarding the duties of nurse investigators. Common duties include verifying identities of deceased individuals, examining the crime or death scene, collecting evidence, contacting family members of the deceased, conducting interviews with all persons involved, analyzing evidence and writing reports about each death investigation.

The duties of this occupation may require day, night, evening, weekend, holiday or on-call hours. These professionals work in the lab and on-site, collecting evidence. Medical examiner nurse investigators need excellent communication skills and the ability to work with law enforcement and related professionals on the scene. In some cases, workers in this occupation may be subject to physical, environmental, or biological hazards, and so precautions are taken. Observation and recording skills are essential; a strong attention to detail is also important.

Job Requirements

Some general career requirements for this position may include experience in forensics or investigations, being a registered nurse and possessing any required certifications. The following table describes the basic career requirements for becoming a medical examiner nurse investigator:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Vocational diploma or undergraduate degree*
Degree Field Nursing,* law enforcement, forensics, criminal justice or pathology**
Licensure and/or Certification Registered nursing license through state of employment, voluntary certification related to forensics or death investigations*
Experience 1-4 years' experience in nursing, and/or 1-4 years' experience in crime scene investigations, clinical forensics or medical investigations**
Key Skills Able to communicate with law enforcement and civilians, comfortable collaborating with other medical personnel, strong organizational skills, able to work under pressure, attention to detail, able to analyze problems and make rational decisions*
Computer Skills Familiar with using medical electronic records systems*
Technical Skills Familiar with medical investigation tools (cameras, tape measure, hand tools and voice recorder), knowledge of medical equipment (scalpels, forceps, blood analysis kits, needles, tweezers and scissors) and familiar with safety gear (masks, latex gloves and protective clothing)***
Additional Requirements Able to stand for several hours, possess a valid driver's license, strong enough to lift 50-100 pounds, comfortable working around dead bodies, have a clear criminal record and be able to pass drug tests**

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),* Government job postings,** U.S. Department of Justice.***

Step 1: Become a Registered Nurse

Several educational paths exist for becoming a registered nurse, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Individuals can either complete diploma programs, associate degree programs or bachelor's degree programs in nursing. Students can usually complete associate degree or diploma programs in less than three years, but it will take an average of four years to complete bachelor's degree programs in nursing, per the BLS.

Regardless of diploma or degree level, common course topics in the field of nursing may include physiology, pharmacology, anatomy, microbiology, nursing skills and professional development. Many programs also require students to complete clinical internship hours at medical facilities. Internship opportunities may include work in pediatrics, mental illness, emergency rooms or public health.

Success Tip:

  • Take forensic nursing classes. According to government job postings listed in August 2012, several employers wanted nurse investigator applicants who possessed knowledge of medical forensics. Some 4-year nursing programs may offer concentration options in forensic nursing. Topics in this field may include identifying assault and sexual abuse, evidence collection, investigation procedures and death investigations.

Step 2: Get State Nursing License

Each state nursing board regulates the licensing requirements that each candidate must meet. Some common requirements may include getting fingerprinted, proving citizenship, completing accredited registered nursing training programs and passing a national nursing exam. The majority of states require license applicants to pass the NCLEX national nursing exam, which is offered by the National Council of the State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

According to NCSBN's test plan for the NCLEX-RN (registered nurse) exam, individuals will be asked questions in several major nursing areas. These areas may include safe and effective care environment, nursing process, management of care, medical documentation, infection control, health promotion and safety procedures. Exams are offered on computers. Some questions are multiple-choice and others require a short response.

Step 3: Build Related Experience

Employers posting job openings in August 2012 for medical examiner nurse investigators preferred candidates who possessed related experience in forensics, pathology, law enforcement or medical investigations. Not all candidates require this type of experience. Many of these same employers would also accept candidates who had worked as registered nurses for at least one year.

Success Tip:

  • Consider voluntary certification. There are several national organizations for forensic nurses, and some of these organizations offer certification programs. For example, the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) provides certification to professionals who possess knowledge and training in the field of death and scene investigations. Individuals who earn ABMDI certification prove that they understand the National Institute of Justice's standards for death investigations.

Step 4: Meet Pre-employment Requirements

Most nurse investigator candidates have to submit to drug screenings and pass background checks. Some employers may require individuals to be licensed drivers, since nurse investigators often have to drive to each death scene. Several employers may require candidates to prove they can meet physical strength requirements, such as lifting a certain amount of weight without assistance.

Step 5: Get Hired

Upon meeting all requirements, medical examiner nurse investigators are often hired by the regional medical examiner's office. Other law enforcement agencies may also hire these workers. Professionals without previous law enforcement or forensic experience may have to complete medicolegal training after being hired. Some employers may also require nurse investigators to complete additional certification programs, in accordance with state or regional statutes.

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