Medical Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

A Medical Examiner, or Forensic Scientist, is responsible for assisting law enforcement officers in investigating deaths and analyzing crime scene evidence. Their duties include performing autopsies on cadavers, traveling to crime scenes to collect evidence and drafting death certificates once they determine the cause of death.

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Medical Examiner duties and responsibilities

A Medical Examiner is vital to the success of criminal investigations. Their evidence is frequently used in investigations, and they’re responsible for preserving evidence to ensure it can be used in court. A Medical Examiner may also perform autopsies to determine the cause of a person’s death. Other primary duties and responsibilities include:

  • Cleaning laboratory stations and supplies
  • Maintaining and ordering new laboratory equipment
  • Investing sudden deaths, sometimes at the scene of a crime
  • Helping police collect evidence at crime scenes
  • Providing expert testimony in court cases
  • Preparing death certificates and other legal documents

What does a Medical Examiner do?

Medical Examiners typically work for law enforcement agencies in forensic laboratories. They work closely with Police Officers, Criminal Investigators and other forensic professionals to determine a cause of death for the deceased and bring closure to loved ones. Their job is to maintain a clean laboratory space and maintain an inventory of forensic tools and supplies to aid their job duties. They may also be responsible for providing testimony in a court of law to offer professional expertise about how someone died.

Medical Examiner skills and qualifications

Medical Examiners need a wide range of skills. Candidates develop the technical skills they need in college and through residency. This should cover qualifications like knowing how to handle evidence, maintaining a lab and working with a team to collect and publish data. Other essential skills and qualifications for a Medical Examiner include:

  • Decision-making skills
  • Communication skills
  • The ability to preserve the integrity of evidence, from initial collection to processing and delivering materials to other sources
  • The ability to work under intense pressure without compromising the quality of your work

Medical Examiner salary expectations

According to data we’ve collected from roughly 60 people and job postings over the past three years, the average salary for a medical examiner/forensic scientist is around $60,000. Pay varies greatly depending on hours worked and factors like experience level and the job’s location. Salaries can be as low as $22,000 a year and as high as $131,000 annually.

Medical Examiner education and training requirements

Medical Examiners must complete several years of higher education, ending with becoming an M.D. or D.O. This can take 15 years; students must first complete a four-year bachelor’s degree, then attend medical school for another four years and then complete residency, which can take up to seven years. Finally, before beginning in this career field, candidates must become certified in accordance with state laws.

Medical Examiner experience requirements

Medical Examiners can find work after completing their residencies. While these individuals won’t have experience working with a company or organization yet, they will have gained sufficient real-world experience through their residency program.

If you’re hiring a Medical Examiner, you’ll get some applicants with previous Medical Examiner experience and some with experience from a related background, such as science or chemistry.  For entry-level workers, you’ll find up to roughly two years of experience. Mid- and senior-level roles typically require three to five years of experience or more.

Job description samples for similar positions

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Frequently asked questions about Medical Examiners

 

What is the difference between a Medical Examiner and a Coroner?

Medical Examiners and Coroners both perform autopsies and determine the causes of death for deceased individuals. Typically, employers use the titles “Medical Examiner” and “Coroner” interchangeably depending on whether they work in large cities or rural areas. For example, the title “Medical Examiner” is usually used in towns or cities. In contrast, the title “Coroner” is usually used for those working in more rural areas with limited law enforcement resources. 

Medical Examiners and Coroners differ in their qualifications. For example, Coroners typically hold other jobs like shop owners, Lawyers, Farmers or tradespeople and earn their position as a Coroner by election. In contrast, Medical Examiners earn a Doctorate of Medicine degree and get appointed by a board.

 

What are the daily duties of a Medical Examiner?

On a typical day, a Medical Examiner starts by checking their email and voicemail. They respond to time-sensitive messages from Law Enforcement Officers and continue working on reports from previous cases. At any time of day, including during the night, Medical Examiners receive calls from law enforcement regarding suspicious deaths or crimes. They spend multiple hours at the crime scene collecting evidence, taking photos and speaking with officials before transporting the deceased to the mortuary. 

During quiet moments during their workday, Medical Examiners perform autopsies and record any chemicals or substances found in the body.

 

What qualities make a good Medical Examiner?

A good Medical Examiner has an investigative nature that enables them to run tests and analyze evidence or cadaver injuries to determine a plausible cause of death for an individual. They demonstrate respect for cadavers as they complete autopsies and other tests. They also have compassion for the deceased’s loved ones and communicate with them to provide them with the answers they need to heal. Further, a good Medical Examiner has excellent written and verbal communication. This quality enables them to write reports detailing the cause of death and allows them to speak before a courtroom about their findings.

 

Who does a Medical Examiner report to?

A Medical Examiner typically reports to the Director of Forensic Science or the Forensic Science Laboratory Director. The Direct of Forensic Science oversees a team of forensic professionals, including the Medical Examiner, and ensure they have the correct supplies to test and store evidence. If a Medical Examiner conducts work at a crime scene, they operate under the authority of the Chief Criminal Investigator or another law enforcement officer.

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