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What is a Medical Examiner?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A Medical Examiner (ME) is a doctor who examines the bodies of people who have died suspiciously or violently to determine how and why they died. Though the exact training and licensure requirements for someone in this position vary by jurisdiction, many places require MEs to have experience in pathology, an understanding of law, and licensure from a local board. The responsibilities, work system, and training of an ME are different from those of a coroner, though people often mix the two positions up.

The Role of a Medical Examiner

Many MEs are trained forensic pathologists, which means that they study people's tissues, organs, body fluids, and cells to determine how or why they died. Even if the cause seems obvious, such as a bullet wound to the head, they still need to evaluate all the data before determining the cause of death. When possible, the ME will be called to the crime scene to investigate the body before it is moved. Seeing the body in context with the crime allows him or her to notice details that may be missed in a lab. In cases of violent crimes that haven't ended in death, a medical examiner may assist in rape examinations, analyses of blood, analyses of DNA evidence, and examinations of a person to document injuries.

In addition to performing or overseeing the examination of the body, a medical examiner may be called to testify as to his or her findings in court. This includes testifying as to the cause of death or injury, establishing DNA evidence, or refuting the testimony of another expert. In addition to their legal duties, MEs also help compile reports about trends in deaths or crime that they draw from their examinations. These are used in both local and national medical and demographics studies.

Education Requirements

Qualifications to become a medical examiner vary, with the level of specialization and training depending on the jurisdiction. Most places require at least a medical degree, with some requiring a background specifically in pathology. In other places, any medical degree, from dermatology to obstetrics, is accepted. In some places, a person might need training from a law school to become an ME, but many MEs take law-related classes even if they're not required for licensing so that they will be better at their jobs. During their education, prospective MEs typically shadow a working examiner to get an understanding of the job, and then start working on their own in a hospital or clinic after they graduate and pass any necessary licensing exams.

Compared to a Coroner

MEs and coroners usually differ in terms of how they're employed, their training, and their main responsibilities. An ME is almost always appointed, but a coroner is usually elected, and may not have any medical training at all. Some areas have a system in which one ME oversees a network of doctors who volunteer their time for autopsies and examinations, but there is not a comparable system for coroners. Unlike an ME, a coroner is usually able to convene a court to determine the cause of a person's death, may be able to hold people in contempt of court, and can often arrest those they suspect of murder. In cases with a combined coroner-ME system, the coroner will often call on a ME to examine bodies and testify as to his or her findings.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon261299 — On Apr 15, 2012

I am in secondary school and we are choosing our options soon, but for this job I have no idea what to choose. Any advice would be well appreciated.

By anon255500 — On Mar 17, 2012

I am super confused about if I want to be a forensic pathologist or not but I love the idea of it. I just don't know if I have the guts for it. I get good grades and am two years ahead of average. Any ideas for working up the guts to get the job?

By anon244991 — On Feb 03, 2012

I'm a 13 year old girl and I find Medical Examiners fascinating. This has interested me for the longest time.

By anon233668 — On Dec 08, 2011

I'm a junior in high school, enrolled in a dual enrollment program. My classmates and I have a project in our criminal justice class. Each student was assigned a role for a court case. I was assigned the medical examiner, and I do not have much of an idea of what I should do. Any advice?

By anon194303 — On Jul 07, 2011

I am a high school senior taking my second semester of classes at college. I dual enroll and once I graduate I plan on going to a local school " Wayne State University," because they are said to have the best mortuary science program around. I really want to know as much about this as possible.

I would absolutely love to hear from a certified medical examiner. Guidance is always helpful. I want to perform autopsies. This I know. I want to make good money too. I have had my eye on this job since I was like five, I swear.

If you are an ME or coroner, please post. I want to hear from you.

By anon163852 — On Mar 29, 2011

i am a 12 year girl who is interested in becoming a medical examiner. yes i have the guts to do it.

By amypollick — On Mar 04, 2011

@anon157669: An autopsy report lists all relevant information about a body. It will list all fresh scars, bruises and other marks, such as birthmarks. Whether it lists old, faded scars, as from a childhood bike accident, say, is up to the individual M.E.

The report will also list the size, weight and condition of all the internal organs, what any X-rays showed (like if the person had an artificial knee or hip) and the body's height, weight and general condition, as well as hair and eye color, the clothing that was on the body when it was received, and any jewelry or other items that came with the body.

A cause of death may be difficult to determine exactly, depending on the person's age and health at the time of death. If several conditions were present, it may be difficult for the M.E. to determine which condition was the primary cause. Sometimes, on the death certificate (separate from the autopsy report), you'll see the primary cause of death and contributing causes. In my dad's case, for instance, the primary cause of death was bacterial pneumonia. Contributing causes were diabetes and end-stage renal failure.

Saying the "probable" cause of death was natural causes means there are no other obvious causes, like bleeding out from a wound or blow to the head or something similar. An experienced M.E. can usually tell fairly quickly if foul play was involved, and if it wasn't, then "natural causes" is the common cause listed. They've just done the job long enough that they can tell.

The autopsy report will also include a toxicology report, if one was requested by the police, the family, or the M.E. personally. Tox screens often come back several weeks or months after the autopsy report is complete.

I hope this helps.

By anon157669 — On Mar 03, 2011

I really need to know what all the me reports about on a dead person. what do they put down, like any sores, scars, marks, bruising? i mean, is that what they report or if they see things on a body like sores, scars or bruising do they note in in the investigation report? and what is probable cause? saying they think they died from natural causes or they're not sure of the cause of death. Please, I need to know asap. thank you so much.

By anon156884 — On Feb 28, 2011

Cool article. My dad is a mortician and I am very interested in medicine. I love the autopsy part, but 10 percent? that seems like very little. what do ME's do for the rest of the time?

By anon129186 — On Nov 22, 2010

I'm Clara and I've wanted to be a Medical Examiner for as long as i can remember. I'm what some people like to call nerds or geeks so I have a bit more information. I hope that this can help aspiring medical examiners:

Description: They are medical doctors that are responsible for the investigation and examination of the decedent and determining the manner of death.

Salary: The average summary for a medical examiner is a little low (however I hope nobody is doing it for the money). A recent salary average said around $45,000 to $50,000. Though there are advancements were the salary starts at $200,000 and goes up according to location (they are called Chief Medical Examiners and the work load is huge. They perform about 250 autopsies per year; review around 1,450 filed medical examiner cases per year; and finally provide instruction in Forensic Pathology).

Education: The average college education required is 15 to 16 years! Because after a bachelor’s degree in Natural Science they must enter Medical School (by taking the MCAT, only about 30 percent of students enter medical school so have a back up plan). After medical school they must get certified in Pathology; there are several different ways to do training in Pathology so I'm not going to talk about that.

So there you have it! A brief (I mean really brief) overview of medical examiners. I hope this helps some of you out there.

However, not to sound depressing, but have a back up plan. I'm a senior this year and have been talking college courses, therefore, I'll be graduating with most of my credits for an Associates Degree and even I have a back up plan.

Medical school is hard and not for everybody. Good luck! I hope we all get into the field of our dreams and meet :)

Wishing you all luck! (Just not as much as me!)

By anon120392 — On Oct 20, 2010

I'm a 15 year old girl and I've always found medical examiners fascinating and have done two papers on it an am working on a third. i love this field and hope to become one.

By anon111282 — On Sep 15, 2010

To all those who want to go into the field of forensics or becoming an M.E., there is a college called Mount Ida college in Massachusetts and there are two different fields you can go into. There are forensic biology and forensic chemistry. both are highly esteemed, even if they may not be specifically geared to those who want to become an M.E. it will give great insight and help push the dedicated student towards their goals! hope this helped.

By anon105111 — On Aug 19, 2010

For every one who is asking for a M.E. program in school, there is no such thing. You must first get your bachelor's degree, then go to a four year med school. You can have either an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).

After that, you must do a four year residency in general pathology, then a one year residency in forensic pathology. If you want to save time (and stress) look for 3+4 programs. These programs allow you to do your bachelor's in three years and be guaranteed to be accepted into a predetermined four year med school, provided your grades are kept above a certain level. You must then go on to do your residencies.

By anon95640 — On Jul 13, 2010

I'm 16 and I really want to be an M.E. What are the right colleges and majors to take?

By anon93292 — On Jul 03, 2010

I'm a 15 year old female and since I was 13 I've wanted to be a M.E. When people ask me if I know what I want to be when I grow up or what I'm interested in doing and I say I'm interested in being a Medical Examiner and they look at me like I'm crazy, but I don't mind because maybe I am.

By anon91018 — On Jun 19, 2010

i am 11 and i want to be an m.e. people think it's disgusting. it's really not!

By anon86541 — On May 25, 2010

I'm 14 and highly interested in becoming a medical examiner. i was wondering where might be some good universities for me to take my courses.

By anon82522 — On May 06, 2010

I'm 16 year old and I'm interested in an M.E school. I'm searching for the right one. can somebody help to find the right jobs?

By anon81156 — On Apr 30, 2010

I am interested in becoming an m.e but am clueless. i don't know which career i should follow.

By anon77534 — On Apr 14, 2010

I am going to college this fall and want to be a medical examiner, but I do not know what to major in?

By settter3 — On Apr 13, 2010

so any medical examiners that can help me out there. i really need to find some more information! and if anyone knows any other articles or websites please post your suggestions!

thanks guys!

By settter3 — On Apr 08, 2010

hey guys i love this article!

By settter3 — On Apr 07, 2010

i was wondering if their are any schools that offered a good medical examiner program and if anyone could recommend them to me

By settter3 — On Apr 05, 2010

I have been reading the article again and i have a question for any medical examiners out there. i know this article says that a medical examiner averages only about 10 percent of their time doing autopsies and i wanted to know if that is 100 percent true because i figure they might be doing a little more time in the lab.

thanks to all who answer, sky.

By anon73325 — On Mar 26, 2010

i am 14 and am doing a career project on being a medical examiner. I've wanted to be this for a long time and i am now realizing that being a medical examiner is definitely what i want to do, thanks to all the info i am finding out.

When my friends tell me i am crazy for wanting to be a medical examiner, I smile because this is truly the greatest job on the face of this earth. thanks for all this great info!

By anon73112 — On Mar 25, 2010

I'm 15 and i have been interested in being a medical examiner for a while. i just have a little trouble finding the right school but I'm looking though, but still, I'm continuing my search.

By anon72722 — On Mar 24, 2010

Hello my name is Jessica J. I wish I could say that I have wanted to be an M.E for as long as I can remember but I can't. I have always loved crime and medical stuff on T.V. and gross stuff that would make other people sick, fascinates me.

Just last year I got the chance to go on a trip with my best friend's mom to Atlanta, Georgia to a body exhibit. I think that may have been the best experience of my life. That's when I started wanting to be an M.E.

I've always wanted excitement in my life and M.E's have the best job ever! I'm 17 and still in high school, so I thought starting on my way to becoming an M.E would be perfect! Thanks for the info. Dr. G rocks!

By anon71237 — On Mar 17, 2010

I'm 14 years old and i'm very interested in being a medical examiner. I'm really thinking about going to college and majoring in becoming a medical examiner.

By anon67756 — On Feb 26, 2010

I'm fifteen and I've always wanted to be a medical examiner. i do realize i can't be flunking out of school like i am now, but this inspires me to turn it around. i can't wait to start my future. :)

By anon67227 — On Feb 23, 2010

I'm 15 and i already love this line of work. I've been obsessing over doing this since i was seven and I'm finally getting help to pick my classes so i can become a medical examiner.

By anon66140 — On Feb 17, 2010

i love this line of work. i would love to work in cases in which i may help find justice for the deceased in any way, and doing this is amazing.

By anon65947 — On Feb 16, 2010

i am 17 and I want to be a medical examiner or paramedic but i want to know how much you make a year if you are a medical examiner?

By anon63724 — On Feb 03, 2010

i am 14 and at first i thought that i wanted to be a mortician but after my mother told me what they do, i realized that their job is kind of boring, so i want to be a medical examiner like Dr.G

By anon58794 — On Jan 04, 2010

I'm 14 and for a long time have been interested in becoming a ME. This article was very interesting, and it was nice to hear from others who are also interested in becoming a medical examiner.

By anon56814 — On Dec 17, 2009

i'm going to be a medical examiner!(:

By anon55717 — On Dec 09, 2009

I love it! My favorite Medical Examiner is Dr. G. I've always wanted to be a Medical Examiner. the only thing is: I'm scared of dead people!

By anon55436 — On Dec 07, 2009

A medical examiner: Everything about this job is

something I've wanted to do for as long as i can remember. this job has a thrill and i can't

put it into words but this is a great career.

By anon52845 — On Nov 17, 2009

This is a wonderful job that i am very interested in. this is great.

By anon51422 — On Nov 05, 2009

i am 17 and i have been to one autopsy already and am going to two more, i love all of it although i don't want to become a medical examiner.

By anon48606 — On Oct 13, 2009

This is a really good website on info about a medical examiner. I really want to be one.

By anon47919 — On Oct 08, 2009

well i am 15, about to be 16 and as long as i can remember i've wanted to be a medical examiner. Everything about it exites me! Being able to find out how the person died and all that is really interesting. My favorit m.e is Dr. G.

By anon47867 — On Oct 07, 2009

i am 14. thanks for all the information. i have wanted to be a medical examiner since when i was 8. i really do like this job. i want to know: what do we need to be a medical examiner so i can get prepared? my favorite medical examiner is Dr. Micheal baden. i love all his books about being a medical examiner.

By anon47194 — On Oct 02, 2009

i am a 17 year old junior in high school and since i was like 9 or 10, i have wanted to be just like alex on "csi: miami" and now that i am old enough to make up my mind and know what i want to do, i am sure i want to do it.

By anon46664 — On Sep 28, 2009

My Mom is a forensic pathologist in San Diego, after 20 years of full time study which involved a number of degrees, including law, which was vital for her career choice. She loves her job and is always telling us stories about her fascinating day at work. I am currently at medical school earning my MD but don't really know what I'm going to do with it?

By anon45912 — On Sep 21, 2009

i am 15 years old and i want to be a medical examiner. i am very interested in becoming a medical examiner. my mom knows that i want to become a medical examiner and i think they make a lot of money. i want to go to college an study medical examining. how many years will it take to become a medical examiner?

By anon45497 — On Sep 17, 2009

i'm looking to be a medical examiner when i get out of high school and begin college. i've done my reseach of the profession and this article happened to be the most helpful to me.

By anon43752 — On Sep 01, 2009

How do i become a medical examiner?

By anon43751 — On Sep 01, 2009

I like this medical examiner thing.

By anon42625 — On Aug 22, 2009

i'm 15 years old and i want to get all of my college plans ready for when the time comes. i decided i wanted to be a medical examiner because i want to be in the medical field but i don't want ruin someone's life by making a mistake and i don't like seeing people in pain. but that's a bummer that they only spend 10 percent of their time time preforming autopsies because i was looking forward to that.

By anon40884 — On Aug 11, 2009

What field would a ME major in while attending college? One suggestion I've gathered is getting a B.A. in biology, then in medical school focusing on pathology. Is there a better path than that?

By anon37978 — On Jul 23, 2009

i'm 17 and i really wanted this kind of info to help me focus on medical field studies. and i hope everything goes easy because i will be stuyding to be a medical examiner.

By anon32235 — On May 18, 2009

I am a 20 year old and I am starting school in the fall and I do not know what my major will be. I love the interesting work that an ME does but I wonder if I can do it? My father says it's just a pipe dream. *I don't know anymore.*

By anon31648 — On May 09, 2009

How many years will it take to become an examiner?

By anon31066 — On Apr 29, 2009

What is the average salary of a medical examiner?

By anon26842 — On Feb 19, 2009

I am 16 and at the point where I must decide what I want to do with my life, so that I can go about the business of doing it. I've considered medical/ criminal work in the past but I wasn't sure. Medical school and practice is a difficult and expensive way of life. Only those most dedicated need apply.

I asked my mom if she thought I could do it. She said yes without hesitation, then leveled one of her patented 'Mom' looks at me and said, "...but you've got to want it." From my research, including this article, I think I do.

By ceb — On Dec 03, 2008

I'm 14 years old and for the longest time I wanted to a criminalist. My parents and I sat down and talked about the chance that I wouldn't like being a criminalist. So we decided on Medical Examiner. That way I still do science and I'm not confined to one work environment. I'm glad I found this article! It really helped me understand what I needed to get the job, as far as requirements.

By anon20484 — On Nov 01, 2008

I am recently graduated from high school and i have never really knew what exactly i wanted to seek my future career in until the last year..and i wanted to be a ME. So a very helpful teacher had helped me look up information in the steps to seek this career further. And some of the information we had found had said and i quote "you have to be an overachiever throughout your junior high, and high school."

That where i kind of found a problem, because i slacked and got by as little as possible, and looking back now i regret it. i wish i had paid a lot more attention, and worried more about my future education than who was having a party on friday night.

So all im trying to say is please take your education seriously and pay plenty of attention...


By asyamcn8 — On Oct 28, 2008

I am 13 years old and my mom was talking to me about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew it was something within the medical field but I didn't know the term for it. Now I know its a medical examiner which is what I want to be. This article helped a lot thanks!

By anon18860 — On Sep 30, 2008

my name is megan, im 17 years old, and planning on going into the medical field when i reach college. thank you for this article, it really helped with my decision.

By anon18794 — On Sep 29, 2008

My name is Emmaline Brooks I'm 13 years old and I've wanted to be this since I was about 8 years old, but i'm not sure which term it is. I'd always called it a Forensic Anatomist, but what you described in the article is Exactly what i've always talked about. So what is the proper term?

By anon17608 — On Sep 02, 2008

Im 12 years old I really think that this job is very exciting and i think im really interested in it! :) Thanks for the article. It helped me on my school project! :-)

By anon16768 — On Aug 14, 2008

I'm reading this book called "Dead Center" and the narrator is a physician assistant who went on to become a ME. Is that still possible, or is a M.D. absolutely required to be a ME?

By anon16040 — On Jul 28, 2008

Well, not really 10%, but you're right. About not spending all my time doing autopsies, I mean. But you're not right about "Crossing Jordan." :) It's a great show (not 100% accurate, though) and they're not autopsying somebody all the time.

Otherwise, an excellent article! Regards from an ME! :)) P.S. I really hate when people call me "coroner." It... I don't know... makes me feel like a creep. :)

By anon14076 — On Jun 09, 2008

im going into the medical field and i was hoping to be a medical examiner and i found this article very interesting!

By anon7552 — On Jan 29, 2008

Great info. I'm doing a report on careers in chemistry that has to do with crime. Every bit of info in this article helped me with what I need to find. My partner will be happy I did some extra research! Hopefully my teacher will too!

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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