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What Does a Forensic Medical Examiner Do?

What Does a Forensic Medical Examiner Do?

Forensic medical examiners, also known as forensic pathologists, are medical doctors who specialize in the examination of deceased bodies to determine the cause and manner of death. They are responsible for conducting autopsies, analyzing medical evidence, and providing testimony in court. Forensic medical examiners play a critical role in the criminal justice system by providing vital information that can help to solve crimes and bring closure to families.


In this article, we will delve deeper into the role of a forensic medical examiner, the duties they perform, and the qualifications and training required to become a forensic medical examiner.

Forensic Medical Examiner Duties and Responsibilities

Forensic medical examiners have a wide range of duties and responsibilities centered around examining deceased bodies to determine the cause and manner of death. Some specific duties and responsibilities of a forensic medical examiner include the following:

  • Conducting autopsies: Forensic medical examiners perform autopsies on deceased bodies to determine the cause and manner of death. This includes performing internal and external examinations, collecting samples for toxicology and another testing, and taking photographs and measurements.
  • Analyzing medical evidence: Forensic medical examiners analyze medical evidence collected from the deceased, such as toxicology reports and lab results, to help determine the cause and manner of death.
  • Testifying in court: Forensic medical examiners may be required to testify in court as expert witnesses, providing testimony and answering questions about their findings and conclusions.
  • Preparing reports: Forensic medical examiners prepare reports summarizing their findings and conclusions, which can be used as evidence in criminal trials and other legal proceedings.
  • Collaborating with law enforcement: Forensic medical examiners work closely with law enforcement agencies, such as police and the FBI, to assist in criminal investigations.
  • Communicating with families: Forensic medical examiners may need to communicate with the families of the deceased, providing them with information about the cause and manner of death and answering any questions they may have.
  • Keeping up-to-date with the latest forensic techniques and technologies.
  • Participating in continuing education and training programs to maintain their skills and knowledge in the field.
  • Being on-call to perform autopsies in case of unexpected deaths.
  • Helping to identify the deceased using fingerprints, DNA, dental records, or other methods.
  • Performing forensic odontology is the use of dental evidence in legal proceedings.
  • Providing assistance in mass disasters or mass fatality incidents.
  • Assisting in organ and tissue donation.

Forensic Medical Examiner Job Requirements

Becoming a forensic medical examiner requires a significant amount of education, training, experience, certifications, and licenses. Here are some of the key requirements for a forensic medical examiner:

  • Education: A forensic medical examiner must have a medical degree (MD or DO) and complete a residency in pathology. To become a licensed physician, they must also pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
  • Fellowship training: After completing a pathology residency, a forensic medical examiner must complete a one or two-year fellowship in forensic pathology. This includes training in the examination of deceased bodies, the interpretation of medical evidence, and the preparation of reports and testimony for legal proceedings.
  • Board certification: Forensic medical examiners must be board certified by the American Board of Pathology (ABP) in anatomic pathology and forensic pathology. This certification is obtained through passing written and oral examinations.
  • Experience: Forensic medical examiners must have experience working with deceased bodies, performing autopsies, and analyzing medical evidence. This can be obtained through on-the-job training and experience while completing their fellowship.
  • License: Forensic medical examiners must be licensed to practice medicine in the state in which they work. They must meet the state’s licensing requirements, which can include passing a medical board examination and completing continuing education.
  • Continuing education: Forensic medical examiners must maintain their medical license and board certification by completing continuing education courses and participating in professional development activities.
  • Background check: Some states and organizations require a background check for forensic medical examiners, which could include a criminal background check, fingerprinting, and a review of any past disciplinary actions.
  • Specialty certification: Some states have their own certification process for forensic medical examiners, including passing a state exam or meeting other specific requirements.

Forensic Medical Examiner Skills

Forensic medical examiners have a variety of skills that are necessary for their job, including:

  • Medical knowledge and expertise: They must thoroughly understand anatomy, physiology, and toxicology to examine and document injuries accurately.
  • Attention to detail: They must be meticulous in examining and documenting evidence.
  • Strong communication skills: They must be able to clearly and effectively communicate with law enforcement, attorneys, and other professionals involved in the investigation.
  • Familiarity with forensic techniques: They must be proficient in the use of forensic techniques such as DNA analysis and fingerprinting.
  • Objectivity: They must remain unbiased and impartial when conducting examinations and providing testimony in court.
  • Knowledge of legal procedures: They must be familiar with the legal procedures and protocols related to forensic examination and evidence collection.
  • Strong analytical skills: They must be able to analyze and interpret medical and forensic evidence to provide accurate conclusions.

Forensic Medical Examiner Salary

The salary for a forensic medical examiner can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and qualifications. On average, the salary for a forensic medical examiner in the United States ranges from $75,000 to $150,000 per year. However, the salary can be higher in some areas and with experience.

It is important to note that most forensic medical examiners in the United States are employed by government agencies such as the state or county medical examiner’s office. The compensation package may include benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off. Some medical examiners are also part of private practice and may have different salary and benefits packages.

It’s also worth noting that salaries for forensic medical examiners can vary widely depending on the location. For example, salaries may be higher in urban areas than in rural areas.

Forensic Medical Examiner Work Environment

Forensic medical examiners typically work in a laboratory or office setting and may spend some time in the field at crime scenes or at the scene of accidents. They may also be required to travel to court to provide testimony.

The work environment can be challenging as it can involve dealing with traumatic and stressful situations such as homicides, suicides, and accidents. They may also have to handle and examine evidence from crime scenes, which can be physically and emotionally demanding.

Forensic medical examiners must follow strict protocols and procedures for handling and preserving evidence and maintaining the chain of custody of evidence. They must also keep detailed and accurate records of their findings and conclusions.

They may also work in collaboration with other professionals such as law enforcement officers, attorneys, and other forensic experts, so good communication skills are necessary.

Working conditions can be stressful, and long hours and irregular schedules may be required, particularly when dealing with homicides, suicides, and other sudden deaths.

Forensic Medical Examiner Trends

Forensic medical examiners continuously adapt to new technologies and advancements in their field. Here are some of the latest trends in forensic medicine:

  • DNA analysis: Advances in DNA analysis have made it possible to identify suspects and solve crimes more quickly and accurately than ever before.
  • Advanced imaging techniques: Medical examiners increasingly use advanced imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine injuries and document evidence.
  • Virtual autopsies: With the development of new technologies such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), virtual autopsies are becoming more common. This allows for a detailed body examination without needing a traditional autopsy.
  • Forensic Toxicology: The use of new analytical techniques, such as mass spectrometry, has led to a more detailed examination of toxicological evidence, which can be used to identify the presence of drugs or other toxins in a person’s body.
  • Cybercrime Forensics: As technology advances, so does cybercrime. There is an increasing need for forensic medical examiners to understand and analyze digital evidence, such as mobile devices and computers, to solve cybercrime cases.
  • Mental health evaluations: In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on the role of forensic medical examiners in assessing the mental health of individuals involved in legal proceedings, including defendants and victims.

How to Become a Forensic Medical Examiner

Becoming a forensic medical examiner typically requires a combination of education, training, and experience. Here are the general steps to becoming a forensic medical examiner:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree: Most forensic medical examiners have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as biology, chemistry, or pre-medicine.
  • Attend medical school: You must graduate from an accredited medical school and earn a medical degree (MD or DO).
  • Complete a forensic pathology fellowship: After completing a medical degree, you will need to complete a fellowship in forensic pathology. This typically takes one to two years and provides specialized training in forensic medicine.
  • Obtain a state medical license: After completing your education and training, you must obtain a state medical license. You must pass a medical board exam and fulfill other requirements to practice medicine in your state.
  • Pass the certification exam: You must pass the American Board of Pathology (ABP) certification exam to become a board-certified forensic pathologist.
  • Work in a forensic pathology lab: After becoming certified, you will need to gain practical experience by working in a forensic pathology lab. This will typically involve conducting autopsies, analyzing evidence, and providing expert testimony in court.
  • Meet the requirements of the state and county you are working in: Some states and counties have additional certification requirements, such as passing state-specific certification exams, meeting the continuing education requirements, and so on.

Please note that the requirements can vary depending on the state and the employer, and it’s important to check with your state medical board and local medical examiner’s office for specific requirements.

Forensic Medical Examiner Advancement Prospects

Forensic medical examiners have a variety of advancement prospects, depending on their career goals and qualifications. Some possibilities include the following:

  • Senior Medical Examiner: With experience and seniority, forensic medical examiners can advance to the position of the senior medical examiner, where they may have additional responsibilities such as supervising junior examiners and managing the forensic pathology lab.
  • Chief Medical Examiner: The Chief Medical Examiner (CME) is the top administrative position in the Medical Examiner’s office. They are responsible for the overall management of the office and its staff and the quality of the forensic services provided.
  • Forensic Pathology Consultant: Some forensic medical examiners may work as consultants, either independently or as part of a consulting firm. They can provide expert testimony in court and offer their expertise to law enforcement agencies, attorneys, and other organizations.
  • Academic positions: Forensic medical examiners interested in research and teaching may seek positions at universities or medical schools where they can conduct research and educate future forensic medical examiners.
  • Specialization: Forensic medical examiners may choose to specialize in a particular area of forensic pathologies, such as forensic toxicology, forensic anthropology, or forensic psychiatry.
  • Further education and training: Forensic medical examiners may pursue additional education and training in related fields such as forensic science, forensic psychology, or forensic engineering.

It’s important to note that advancement in the field of forensic medical examiners requires a combination of education, experience, a good reputation, and a commitment to continued professional development and learning.

Forensic Medical Examiner Job Description Example

Below you will find an example job description.

Job Title: Forensic Medical Examiner

Job Summary:

We are seeking a highly skilled and experienced Forensic Medical Examiner to join our team. The ideal candidate will have extensive knowledge and experience in forensic pathology and will be responsible for conducting autopsies and providing expert medical testimony in criminal investigations.


  • Conducting autopsies on deceased individuals to determine the cause of death
  • Collecting and analyzing evidence from autopsy findings
  • Providing expert medical testimony in criminal investigations
  • Providing consultations to law enforcement agencies and attorneys
  • Maintaining accurate and complete medical records
  • Participating in continuing education and professional development activities


  • Medical degree (MD or DO) from an accredited medical school
  • Completion of residency in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology
  • Board certification in forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology
  • Valid medical license to practice in the state
  • Minimum of 5 years of experience as a Forensic Medical Examiner
  • Excellent communication skills and ability to work collaboratively with other professionals
  • Proficiency in the use of medical and scientific equipment
  • Ability to maintain confidentiality and discretion in sensitive situations


We offer competitive salary and benefits packages, including health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off. Additionally, we provide professional growth and development opportunities through ongoing training and continuing education programs.

To Apply:

Please submit your resume, cover letter, and references to [Contact Person/Email] if you meet the above requirements and are interested in this exciting opportunity. We are an equal-opportunity employer and welcome all qualified applicants to apply.

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