Due in large part to popular culture depictions like Dr. Saroyan from the television series Bones, the profession of medical examiners, which was long obscure to the general public, has gained significantly more recognition. A medical examiner can learn the details of someone’s demise by looking at their corpse, sometimes with startling accuracy.
This area offers many gratifying aspects to those who are interested in it, from the pay to the interesting work the career offers. Although not always, a medical examiner may also be a forensic pathologist by training. A medical examiner must be distinguished from a coroner, who may or may not have medical training.
Medical examiners are those who work in the field to examine human bodies after death. To ascertain the reason and timing of death, they investigate sudden and unexpected fatalities as well as violent situations. The forensic medical examiner may investigate the medical history of the dead, review the crime scene and witness statements, and evaluate any evidence—such as gunpowder residue or bodily fluids—that was discovered on the body. Understanding additional disciplines like DNA, toxicology and even ballistics is useful.
Also Read: Branches of Forensic Medicine
A death certificate is among the papers that the medical examiner prepares. They frequently collaborate closely with law enforcement on cases. Additionally, these experts may provide testimony in court and share their findings in front of a judge and jury.
What is a forensic medical examiner?
Medical examiners or forensic pathologists are other names for forensic medical examiners. A doctor who conducts autopsies on the bodies of the deceased to ascertain the cause and manner of death is known as a forensic medical examiner. The results of the autopsy can also reveal details about how the deceased person died.
What does a forensic medical examiner do?
An individual’s organs, cells, tissues, and body fluids are examined by a forensic medical examiner. To ascertain the method and cause of death, they may also take other data acquired from the deceased corpse into account. The most frequent duties of a forensic medical examiner are to:
- Record all information about the body, including the weight of each organ
- Monitor or take photos of the body
- Collect samples of various bodily fluids
- As necessary, perform X-rays and scans on the body
- Study the patient’s medical history
- Test evidence from the crime scene, including witness statements.
- Collecting and recording traces and medical evidence from the body for a thorough study.
- Conducting an autopsy to see whether there are any signs of disease or injuries.
- Making use of specialist education and expertise in disciplines including anatomy, toxicology, DNA, and serology (blood analysis).
- Ensuring that the appropriate steps are used while gathering evidence
- Coordinating tasks with law enforcement activities
- Advising relatives on the manner and cause of the deceased person’s death
- Working alone for long periods in a laboratory or visiting
- Giving testimony in court cases about their findings
- Studying trends and writing reports on their investigations
- Issuing death certificates
- Conducting inquests and issuing witnesses with subpoenas
- Assisting with examinations of living people in criminal cases
CAREER OUTLOOK FOR MEDICAL EXAMINERS
Despite the lack of data specifically for the medical examiner field, the job prospects for doctors are generally favorable. Between 2020 and 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a growth rate of 3%, which is lower than the average for all occupations (BLS 2021). Nevertheless, as the healthcare industry grows, there is a continual demand for doctors, and the BLS estimates that 22,700 new jobs will become available over the next ten years.
The National Association of Medical Examiners is one of the several professional organizations specifically for medical examiners that those interested in the area should research (NAME).
The American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators is another organization that certifies forensic medical examiners (ABMDI). Last but not least, information can also be obtained through the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), which supports a variety of forensic scientists.
HOW TO BECOME A MEDICAL EXAMINER?
There is a significant amount of labor and education required to become a medical examiner. In addition to having an MD (medical doctor) or DO, they must also possess a bachelor’s degree (doctor of osteopathic medicine). They will require a forensic pathology fellowship or further residency training.
This is one route you could take to become a medical examiner.
Step 1: Pass your high school diploma or GED exam (four years).
As early as high school, students begin to prepare for medical school. For the most part, applicants to bachelor’s degree programs must have a high school diploma or GED. Students should strive to be the best in all of their classes, especially in biology, chemistry, and other science courses.
Step 2 is to pursue a bachelor’s degree (four years).
Because medical school applications can be quite difficult, future medical examiners will need to do well in their undergraduate studies. Pre-medical students that are interested in this field of work can major in biology, chemistry, or a closely related subject. Students who want to major in forensic science should make sure that their undergraduate studies satisfy all requirements for medical school.
Complete medical school in step three (four years).
Despite being the first step on this list, medical school is a significant commitment. Students should be ready to submit a full accounting of all academic work, letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and results for the Medical College Admission Exam due to the very competitive admission procedure (MCAT).
Students who are accepted to medical school must complete challenging coursework in advanced anatomy, physiology, and microbiology as well as classes on the correct clinical procedure and bedside etiquette.
Students in medical school also conduct supervised clinical rotations to put their knowledge in specialties like internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, and pathology to use. This is true regardless of their long-term employment goals.
Any student interested in becoming a medical examiner is advised to enroll in any forensics or pathology courses that are offered. Autopsy pathology, for instance, is a typical elective in medical school and may also be offered during clinical rotations. Depending on the curriculum, medical school graduates receive either a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree.
Earn a medical license in step four (timelines vary).
After passing their board exams, medical school graduates can get a medical license. The license examination consists of three tests that start in the second year of medical school and end one year into residency. State-specific licensing criteria, which may extend beyond this exam, should be taken into account by anyone interested in a career in medicine before obtaining their license. (Every country has its own rules for issuing medical licenses).
Following graduation, students start a full-time residency that will prepare them to practice medicine with increasing independence. Since there are no residency programs that are solely dedicated to the job of the medical examiner, medical examiners may decide to finish a residency in the pathology field. Instead, candidates should search for residencies that offer training in forensic pathology and autopsies as part of the curriculum.
Apply for a medical examiner fellowship in step six (one year).
Most doctors decide to complete a fellowship to specialize in the vocation of the medical examiner. After a residency, specialty training is known as a fellowship. These fellowships, which are mostly held at government-run medical examiner offices, will allow doctors to concentrate on the unique facets of their profession.
It takes a very committed person to become a medical examiner. To prepare for this vocation, a high school graduate can anticipate investing at least a further 12 years in pathology and forensics education and training.
A skilled medical examiner may experience a protracted time of unemployment because of the less demand, which makes it possible that they will not be able to work where they would like.
Medical examiners must be licensed physicians with specialized training in carrying out death examinations. For people who are not interested in pursuing a full course of medical study, there is certain employment accessible. Forensic autopsy specialists, for example, can work in a medical examiner’s office where they can help with autopsies and work to ascertain the cause of death.
Additionally, coroners are often not required to have specialized medical training. They complete activities like completing death certificates and collaborate with pathologists and medical examiners to discover potential causes of death. Coroners may be elected or appointed government officials depending on local or city legislation.
Those who have earned a master’s degree
Additionally, students have the option of pursuing a master’s degree in a subject like a pathology. A post in a medical examiner’s office or a lab that tests samples from the medical examiner can be attained with a master of science (MS) in pathology.
A master’s degree could also be helpful in securing employment as an assistant to a forensic pathologist. A person in that situation might find their expertise to be very helpful if they decide to pursue further training to become a medical examiner.
How much does a forensic medical examiner make on average?
It can be challenging to estimate the typical forensic medical examiner’s remuneration. This is so because a person’s salary greatly depends on the province in which they work and their level of industry experience. However, a forensic investigator has average yearly pay of $103,114 in the country.
Where do medical examiners work?
Depending on the workload and deadlines, medical examiners can spend anywhere between 20 and 40 hours each week at their offices. They work for government organizations, hospitals, medical colleges, and morgues. When they are closely collaborating with crime scene investigation detectives and need to provide their professional advice, medical examiners will occasionally travel to courts to testify, to crime sites, or to police stations.
What qualifications are necessary for a forensic medical examiner?
The following are the most important qualifications that employers look for in a forensic medical examiner:
• Critical thinking: Forensic medical examiners assess the facts and draw reasonable judgments about the manner of death, the time of death, and other pertinent details at crime scenes.
• Detail-oriented: Forensic medical examiners carefully inspect a crime scene. To prevent leaving out crucial information, they must pay close attention to detail.
• Excellent verbal and written communication skills are a must for medical examiners as they present their findings verbally and in writing to the families of the deceased, the courts, and law enforcement organizations.
• Problem-solving abilities: Medical examiners use their ability to solve problems to carry out proper scientific tests using the best procedures to obtain the information they need.
Forensic medical examiner vs. coroner
Even though the phrases “forensic medical examiner” and “coroner” are sometimes used interchangeably, these occupations have quite different training requirements, duties, and career prospects. For instance, forensic medical examiners must have medical expertise, although coroners are not required to have it.
• Coroners can be hired to work for law enforcement authorities.
• Coroners have the authority to schedule a court hearing to identify the cause of death of a deceased person while they call on medical examiners to conduct post-mortem exams. Government agencies may appoint medical examiners. Hospitals and medical colleges both employ medical examiners.
Medical examiners are crucial in examining crime scenes and figuring out how someone died, usually by performing autopsies. A career as a medical examiner offers a variety of gratifying options, including competitive compensation and the satisfying nature of work in solving crimes.