What is a Coroner?

A coroner is responsible for the dead bodies that come into the morgue. If the death seems suspicious, they begin an investigation into the cause of death. Most countries believe that a death that occurs outside of the traditional hospital facility is potentially suspicious, so most deaths are investigated by a coroner.

Some coroners in the United States (depending on the state) are specialized physicians, or medical examiners, with training in forensic pathology. However, others are elected officials who are voted in at the county level.

What does a Coroner do?

A coroner examining a body in the morgue.

Coroners are responsible for studying the remains and determining a time and a cause of death. They will also issue the formal death certificate which states all of the aspects of the death. If the death is ruled a homicide, the information gathered will be used in any future court proceedings.

Coroners also deal with court proceedings. In the event of an investigation into a death where the body has already been buried, the coroner gives permission for the body to be exhumed. They are also responsible for handling all of the aspects of the death investigation and reporting the information to the courts. Once the investigation has finished and the courts are done with the remains, they release the body to the family for burial.

In some countries, coroners act more within the role of an investigator, and are a part of the court system. They also preside over the court proceedings to determine an official cause of death. Evidence is presented through the court, and a cause of death is determined with the coroner acting as a judge over the proceedings.

Interested in becoming a coroner?

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What is the workplace of a Coroner like?

It is important to understand what role one is entering, depending on the country of residence. The workplace environment of a coroner can be very different from country to country and even state to state. Some court coroners work both in the court and in the morgue. Some work involves crime scene investigation and the gathering of evidence.

Coroners normally have a private office to allow for the review of documents and reports to determine a cause of death and gather pertinent evidence for the courts. In the office, they draw up important documents and death certificates. They also keep records on deaths and investigations.

The coroner's job is not for everyone. Some people find that dealing with human remains is too difficult. When the medical examiner takes on the role of a crime scene investigator, it can become graphic and too emotionally overwhelming for some individuals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I become a Coroner?

Individuals looking to become a coroner or medical examiner must be willing to be exposed to disturbing circumstances. Elected coroners must be prepared to campaign for political office.

Over and above these prerequisites and specific education demands, the roles call for a particular set of soft skills and an especially important character trait:

Attention to detail and analytical skills
The consummate coroner/medical examiner is detail-oriented, methodical, and analytical; and embraces the science of examining microscopic samples of tissues, cells, or fluids to identify a cause of death.

Communication and interviewing skills
Coroners and medical examiners often consult with protective service workers, the court system, and bereaved family members.

Technical savvy
Coroners and medical examiners often use graphics and photo imaging software; toxicology databases; and Forensic Filer, a specialized case management software program.

Compassion
Coroners and medical examiners with genuine human compassion and a desire to resolve mysterious deaths to bring some peace to victims’ families are more likely to be able to accept the frequently sad circumstances surrounding their work.

Dexterity
Coroners and medical examiners must be able to effectively operate autopsy tools.

Pros
- Opportunity to make a positive contribution to community
- Possibility of assisting police in solving homicide cases

Cons
- Irregular hours – coroners/medical examiners must often attend crime scenes
- Possibility of encountering biohazards
- Often stressful, sometimes traumatic working conditions

Before embarking on the path to becoming a coroner or medical examiner, it is important to consider what is at the heart of the profession. Dealing with the deceased on a regular basis might be a negative for some individuals. For others, solving questions related to unexplained deaths may be rewarding. To which of these groups do you belong?

Coroners are also known as:
Chief Coroner Chief Medical Examiner Medical Examiner County Coroner