CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a coroner.
Is becoming a coroner right for me?
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- Take classes in biology, chemistry, physiology, anatomy, computer applications, foreign languages, and first aid
- Take advancement placement and college preparatory courses in the science and math fields
- Take an introductory course in healthcare
- Research undergraduate and graduate schools that offer the best science and medical programs
While some prospective coroners undergo a condensed specialized coroner training program, most earn a bachelor’s degree, often with a major in forensic science, pathology, or pre-med. Coursework typically includes inorganic and organic chemistry, biology, mathematics, and physics.
For students pursuing a career as a medical examiner, the four years of undergraduate study prepare them for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and entry to medical school.
These students, in particular, typically focus on biology and biochemistry courses with a pre-med emphasis. They may also seek an advisor to assist them in mapping out a timeline of courses which will best prepare them for the MCAT, and to counsel them on resume presentation and finding volunteer and research opportunities.
Election / Licensure / Certification (applies only to coroners, who are generally elected officials)
Coroners who are not required to be licensed physicians are often elected officials. They are therefore required to run a campaign and win an election in order to assume the office.
Requirements for licensing of coroners varies by state. Some states require coroners to pass a licensing exam, while others require successful completion of a state-approved specialized training program or course of study.
In addition to obtaining their license, coroners may apply for certifications from the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) and the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (ACFEI).
Please note that the steps below – Steps 5 through 11– apply only to medical examiners, who must be licensed physicians.
Medical School Admissions Test
During their junior year of undergraduate study, prospective medical examiners must sit for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Through a set of multiple-choice questions, this standardized exam allows medical schools to evaluate a candidate’s training and skill set. Many schools share their incoming student MCAT score average on their website to inform undergraduates of how well they need to score to compete with other applicants.
To achieve their highest possible MCAT score, students are encouraged to take advantage of assistance available to them. This includes study materials, pre-tests, practice tests, and online and in-person tutoring. These resources are designed to ensure that students attain the best possible score, which will open doors to medical schools.
Medical School & National Licensing
Forensic pathologists obtain either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.
Medical school is a very challenging four years of study that is divided into two parts.
The first part, comprising the first two years of the schooling, is focused on course and lab work that prepares students intellectually for patient interaction. This training is in the biological and natural sciences, physiology, chemistry, medical ethics, and the art and practice of medicine.
To test their grasp of this portion of training, in the second year of medical school students pursuing an MD must take and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) – Step 1. Those pursuing a DO must take and pass the United States Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) – Level 1.
A passing score on the USMLE or COMLEX-USA indicates that students are ready to begin supervised patient visits and gain clinical experience.
The second part of medical school, the second two years, is called Rotations. During this time, students have the opportunity to experience a variety of medical specialties and a variety of medical settings under the supervision of experienced physicians. Rotations further students’ understanding of patient care, situations, scenarios, and the teams that come together to help those that are sick.
As they complete rotations, students tend to find out that they gravitate towards certain specialties or environments that fit their particular interests and skill sets. It is important that this time inform their decision of specialty or subspecialty, so that they find complete satisfaction as a physician.
After part two of medical school, students take the United States Medical Licensing Exam –Step 2 or the United States Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination – Level 2. The objective of these exams is to test whether or not students have developed the clinical knowledge and skills that they will need to transition into unsupervised medical practice.
To become medical examiners, medical school graduates complete their residency in anatomic pathology. The program is built around rotations in the major sub-specialties of the field: surgical pathology, cytopathology, and forensic pathology. It immerses residents in the process of diagnosing diseases through an autopsy. Practical experience is gained by participating in investigations and autopsies.
State Licensing & Continuing Education
All physicians in every state need to be state licensed. To be eligible to sit for a state’s licensing exam, candidates must have completed medical school and a residency program. While licensing rules and regulations vary from one state to another, periodic license renewal and continuing education are common requirements.
Forensic pathologists must be certified by the American Board of Pathology, a member of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).
To be eligible for the Board’s basic certification, applicants must have graduated from an accredited medical school, obtained a medical license, completed a pathology residency, and passed written and practical certification testing.
Candidates may pursue certification in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, or a combination of the two. Additional certification is available in the forensic pathology subspecialty.
To retain their professional certifications, licensed pathologists must meet certain requirements. For this reason, the American Board of Medical Specialties administers a Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program. The program involves continuing medical education, testing, and periodic performance reviews to ensure that physicians remain up-to-date on their medical training and knowledge of advances in their specialty.
A ‘fellow’ is a physician who completes further training or a ‘fellowship’ in a specialty or subspecialty, after or near the end of residency.
Forensic pathology fellows work on a forensic team at a medical examiner’s office. They participate in crime scene investigations, prepare courtroom testimonies, test body fluids, and assist with autopsies.
Over the course of their fellowship year, they perform up to three hundred autopsies under the supervision of a certified forensic pathologist. Training focuses on evidence collection and the identification of poisoning, disease, trauma, or ballistic wounds during autopsies.
Medical examiners are normally appointed by a state board. It is common for them to serve as a deputy medical examiner before transitioning to the position of chief ME. A chief medical examiner generally has greater interaction with the government agencies that work in tandem with the office.