What does a medical examiner do?

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What is a Medical Examiner?

A medical examiner is a highly trained physician who investigates deaths and determines the cause and manner of death. They are typically employed by a government agency, such as a county or state, and work closely with law enforcement agencies to provide vital information about a death investigation. Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.

In addition to conducting autopsies, medical examiners also perform other forensic procedures such as reviewing medical records, interviewing witnesses, and conducting microscopic analyses. Their work is crucial in identifying potential public health concerns, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases or environmental hazards, and in determining the cause of sudden, unexpected, or suspicious deaths. Medical examiners play a critical role in the criminal justice system, providing evidence that may be used to prosecute criminals or exonerate the innocent.

What does a Medical Examiner do?

A covered body being prepared for an autopsy.

Duties and Responsibilities
A medical examiner is a medical doctor who is responsible for investigating deaths that are sudden, unexpected, or suspicious. The duties and responsibilities of a medical examiner can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the case, but generally include the following:

  • Conducting autopsies: A medical examiner is responsible for performing autopsies to determine the cause and manner of death. This involves examining the body for injuries, collecting samples for testing, and analyzing medical records and other evidence.
  • Analyzing medical records: In addition to conducting autopsies, a medical examiner may also review medical records, toxicology reports, and other documents to gain a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding a death.
  • Testifying in court: A medical examiner may be called upon to testify in court about their findings and conclusions in a particular case. This can include providing expert testimony about the cause and manner of death.
  • Investigating deaths: A medical examiner is responsible for investigating deaths that are sudden, unexpected, or suspicious. This may involve working with law enforcement officials to gather evidence and interview witnesses.
  • Completing death certificates: A medical examiner is responsible for completing death certificates that provide information about the cause and manner of death. This information is used by government agencies and insurance companies to track mortality rates and determine eligibility for benefits.
  • Providing support to families: A medical examiner may also provide support to families who have lost loved ones. This can involve answering questions about the death and providing information about grief counseling and other resources.
  • Conducting research: Some medical examiners may also conduct research to improve the understanding of the causes and mechanisms of death. This research may involve collaborating with other medical professionals and analyzing data from autopsies and other sources.

Types of Medical Examiners
There are a few different types of medical examiners, each with their own specific area of focus and responsibilities:

  • Forensic Pathologist: These medical examiners specialize in the investigation of deaths that are sudden, unexpected, or suspicious. They perform autopsies to determine the cause of death and collect evidence to support criminal investigations.
  • Coroner: A coroner is an elected or appointed official who may or may not have a medical degree. They investigate deaths that are sudden or unexpected and may order autopsies or toxicology tests to determine the cause of death.
  • Neuropathologist: A neuropathologist is a medical examiner who specializes in the examination of the nervous system and brain tissue. They investigate deaths related to neurological disorders, traumatic brain injuries, and other conditions affecting the brain and nervous system.
  • Forensic Toxicologist: A forensic toxicologist is a medical examiner who specializes in the analysis of bodily fluids and tissues to determine the presence of drugs, alcohol, or other toxins. They may work in conjunction with other medical examiners to help determine the cause of death.

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What is the workplace of a Medical Examiner like?

Medical examiners work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, hospitals, medical examiner's offices, and private consulting firms. Their primary responsibility is to conduct autopsies and determine the cause and manner of death in cases where it is unclear or suspicious.

One of the most common workplaces for medical examiners is the medical examiner's office. These offices are typically run by the local or state government and are responsible for investigating deaths that occur within their jurisdiction. Medical examiners in these offices work closely with law enforcement officials and other medical professionals to determine the cause and manner of death in cases where foul play or criminal activity is suspected.

Another workplace for medical examiners is hospitals. In this setting, medical examiners may be responsible for conducting autopsies on patients who have died unexpectedly or who have donated their bodies to science. They may also provide expert testimony in legal cases involving medical malpractice or wrongful death.

Private consulting firms may also employ medical examiners. These firms may provide expert witness testimony in legal cases or may be hired by individuals or organizations to conduct independent investigations into deaths or injuries. Medical examiners who work in this setting may also provide training and consultation services to other professionals in the field of forensic pathology.

Frequently Asked Questions

Medical Examiner vs Forensic Pathologist

A medical examiner and a forensic pathologist are both professionals who work in the field of forensic medicine, but they have slightly different roles.

A medical examiner is a licensed physician who is responsible for investigating the cause, manner, and circumstances of death. They perform autopsies and review medical records and police reports to determine the cause of death. Medical examiners are typically employed by the state or county government and work in a medical examiner's office.

A forensic pathologist, on the other hand, is a medical doctor who has completed additional training in the field of pathology, with a specialization in forensic pathology. Forensic pathologists are also responsible for determining the cause of death, but they are typically employed by hospitals or universities, and they may also serve as expert witnesses in legal cases.

In summary, while both a medical examiner and a forensic pathologist work in the field of forensic medicine and are responsible for determining the cause of death, a medical examiner is a licensed physician who works for the government, while a forensic pathologist is a specialized doctor who may work in a hospital or university setting and may also serve as an expert witness in legal cases.

Both medical examiners and forensic pathologists require a medical degree, residency training in forensic pathology, and licensure to practice. However, forensic pathologists undergo additional specialized training through a fellowship program to gain expertise in the field of forensic pathology.

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Comprehensive List of Doctor Specializations and Degrees

Here is a comprehensive list of specializations that a doctor can pursue and a brief summary of each specialization:

  • Allergist: An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies, asthma, and related conditions. Allergists have specialized training in the recognition and management of allergic reactions.
  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
  • Cardiothoracic Surgeon: A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
  • Chiropractic Neurologist: A chiropractic neurologist is a specialized type of chiropractor who has undergone additional training in the field of neurology. They diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
  • Colorectal Surgeon: A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
  • Doctor: An general overview of what a doctor does and how to become one.
  • Dentist: Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
  • Dermatologist: A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
  • Emergency Medicine Physician: An emergency medicine physician works in emergency departments, hospitals, and urgent care clinics, and is often the first medical professional that patients see when they are in need of urgent medical care.
  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
  • Family Practitioner: A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
  • Forensic Pathologist: A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
  • Geriatrician: A geriatrician specializes in the care of elderly patients, and often works with patients who have multiple chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as age-related cognitive and functional impairments.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
  • Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders, such as anemia and leukemia.
  • Hospitalist: A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
  • Immunologist: An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
  • Internist: An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
  • Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.
  • Naturopathic Physician: A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
  • Nephrologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, kidney stones, hypertension, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
  • Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Occupational Physician: Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
  • Oncologist: An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
  • Orthopaedic Surgeon / Orthopedist: An orthopaedic surgeon (or orthopedist) examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Orthodontist: An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
  • Osteopath: Osteopaths have attended and graduated from an osteopathic medical school and practise the system of healthcare known as osteopathy. They consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms they exhibit. They see the integrated nature of the body’s organ systems and its capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.
  • Otolaryngologist: Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
  • Pathologist: A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
  • Periodontist: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
  • Podiatrist: A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
  • Prosthodontist: A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
  • Radiologist: A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
  • Rheumatologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Sports Medicine Physician: A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male reproductive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
  • Vascular Medicine Specialist - A vascular medicine specialist specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels. They may work with patients who have conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Vascular Surgeon - A vascular surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels, including aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and varicose veins.

Corresponding Degrees

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See Also
Doctor Allergist Anesthesiologist Cardiologist Cardiothoracic Surgeon Chiropractor Colorectal Surgeon Dentist Dermatologist Emergency Medicine Physician Endocrinologist Family Practitioner Forensic Pathologist Gastroenterologist Geriatrician Gynecologist Hematologist Hospitalist Immunologist Infectious Disease Specialist Internist Naturopathic Physician Nephrologist Neurologist Neurosurgeon Obstetrician Occupational Physician Oncologist Ophthalmologist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Orthopaedic Surgeon Orthopedist Orthodontist Osteopath Otolaryngologist Pathologist Pediatrician Periodontist Plastic Surgeon Podiatrist Prosthodontist Psychiatrist Pulmonologist Radiologist Rheumatologist Sports Medicine Physician Surgeon Urologist Vascular Medicine Specialist Vascular Surgeon Chiropractic Neurologist