Medical examiners, or forensic pathologists, are employed by federal, state and local governments as well as the military, medical schools and hospitals. Medical examiners determine the cause of unexpected or violent deaths. The path to becoming a medical examiner is extensive, and requires 8 to 12 years of education after high school. Start early on, as soon as high school, and continue to stay focused throughout the rest of your career path.
Taking Preliminary Steps
1.Learn about the career. A medical examiner is a difficult career for a variety of reasons. Before you commit yourself to the career path, take some time to learn about the benefits and drawbacks of the career.
A medical examiner is similar to a coroner. Your job would be to identify deceased persons and determine the cause of death. You would also conduct toxicology reports, autopsies, and locate sites of trauma and determine time of death. The difference is, a medical examiner is appointed while a coroner is elected. Also, coroners are not always medical doctors but medical examiners are.
If a death is the result of a crime, you may also travel to the scene of an accident to collect evidence and conduct interviews.
Medical examiners positions tend to pay well. Average pay is over $180,000 a year. However, pay is contingent on experience and location. Some states may pay less.
Given the nature of the work, it can be a stressful and emotionally demanding position. Give serious consideration to whether you can deal with death on a daily basis. The deaths can be quite gruesome at times. If possible, talk to medical examiner and ask them how they cope with the job emotionally.
2.Start in high school. If you want to be a medical examiner, your education path should begin early as you'll need 8 to 12 years of higher education after obtaining a high school degree.
Start looking into programs as early as sophomore or junior year. Get a sense of which undergraduate schools offer competitive, respectable science programs and what you can do to boost your chances of being accepted to one of these schools.
Take a lot of science courses, aiming for AP curriculum later in high school. You should also study hard for any standardized tests, such as the ACT and SATS, you might need to take. Pay particular attention to the science and math sections, as a high score in these areas can help you get accepted into your chosen college after graduation. Look for science-related internships or volunteer experiences in high school. Ask your teachers and guidance counselor about opportunities.
Some schools allow high school students to enroll in low level science courses during their senior year. See if this a possibility in your school. It's something you might want to look into if you want to improve your college application. You will also want to be a well-rounded individual. Colleges don't just look at grades and science activities. They look to make sure a candidate is active and interested in other areas. Good examples of activities include band, team sports, volunteering organizations, and after-school groups.
3.Take advantage of your undergraduate education. Your career path begins in college. As a medical degree is a must if you want to become a medical examiner, you need to take a pre-med curriculum as an undergraduate student.
You should find a school with a good reputation for pre-med curriculum, as having a degree from a recognizable school can increase your chances of getting into a good medical school. You can find rankings of different degree programs online and ask your high school guidance counselor.
For the most part, pre-med students major in biology or bio-chemistry. These programs are offered in most 4-year colleges. Going for a degree with a pre-med focus will involve classes in cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and microbiology. Talk to your college counselor about what your course curriculum should look like semester by semester. Seek out internships and other experience. Medical related volunteer work, internships, and jobs look great on a pre-med application. Seek out experience in your area by asking professors, advisers, and fellow students to help you find opportunities.
Certifications, such as CPR, can easily be obtained during college. Certain medical positions, such as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), only require a high school degree. Doing EMT work part time in college or over the summers can really make your med school application stand out.
Junior and senior year, begin researching and touring medical schools. If you do tour, try to make connections. Send follow up e-mails to anyone you meet and strive to stay in touch. Making a good impression on an administrator or a professor can help your application for med school stand out.
Graduate schools look to see that the candidate is well-rounded and is pursuing interests like team sports, volunteering, band, and other campus activities.
4.Take the Medical College Admission Test. The Medical College Admissions Tests (MCAT) is the standardized test most medical schools require for admission. Getting a high score on the MCAT is important if you want to get into a good med school.
The MCAT consists of four multiple choice sections: Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.
There are a variety of ways to study for the MCAT. You can buy online study guides, books, or take paid prep-courses through a program like Kaplan.
You register for the exam online, on a date that is convenient to you. On the test day, you need to check in with an administer and show a valid form of ID. Your fingerprints will be digitally taken and a test day photograph will be taken. You can retake the exam if you do not like your score. The MCAT exam can be taken 3 times in a single year, 4 times in a 2 year period, and 7 times in a lifetime.
Getting Your Education
1.Attend medical school. Medical school lasts four years and provides an intensive overview of basic medical science, the human body, and how to diagnose and administer medication.
Medical school is a stressful, time-consuming process that requires dedication on your part. Make sure you give yourself adequate time to study during your time in med school.
The first two years of medical school are academically based. You learn about basic science and human anatomy in a classroom setting.
The second two years of medical school involve clinical training. You will work in a hospital with a team of other students, learning about medical work hands-on.
2.Decide on the route you'll take regarding your residency. After you complete medical school, there are several different routes you can take to become a medical examiner. Decide which route is right for you by weighing costs, efficiency, time, and your own personal learning style.
Forensic pathology in the United States requires at least 2 or 3 years of anatomic pathology residency training followed by at least one year of forensic pathology fellowship. Additional years (e.g. clinical / laboratory pathology residency and other specialty fellowships) can be added, if desired.
You can also do a more multifaceted path, doing a program that consists of anatomic pathology in addition to laboratory medicine and forensic pathology. This path is a good one if you know you enjoy pathology, but would like to keep your options outside of forensic pathology open.
A third option is to spend 5 years in forensic pathology and 2 years in anatomic pathology. A fourth option is one fellowship year of forensic pathology and one year of neuropathology, toxicology, or a related field following your basic pathology residency. These options might give you more expertise than that confined to crime scene investigation. Ask medical examiners you know as well as past professors and advisers about what path would be right for you.
3.Complete a Forensic Pathology Fellowship, if necessary. Depending on the path you chose, you might need to complete a Forensic Pathology Fellowship after completing your residency.
A Forensic Pathology Fellowship is designed to help you further your experience performing autopsies by investigating violent death. You will work with law enforcement agencies during this time, and play an important part in solving crimes and providing evidence for trial.
You might be working in a local medical examiner's office. If you like the work environment during your fellowship, try to stay in touch with any connections you make. You might be able to find a full time job here down the road. Fellowships typically last one year.
Finding a Position
1.Complete a licensing exam (or exams). Regardless of your state, you need to take a licensing exam to become a medical examiner. You may also want to look into official certification, as some states require this for hiring.
Know the specific requirement of a medical examiner in your state. There is no one exam or one certification program that is accepted nationwide.
How to study for an exam or prepare for certification depends on your state. However, if you've completed the necessary education you should be able to successfully pass. Study the basics before the exam and consult study guides specific to the exam you take.
For more information regarding state-by-state licensing and certification, look at the website of the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute. They provide license and certifications that are accepted in many states.
2.Apply for positions. Medical examiner positions are usually in high demand, and the position has a high growth rate. You should be able to find positions to apply for in a variety of locations.
Ask your contacts from med school, your residency, and your fellowship. Oftentimes, connections are what are most likely to help us find a job. Let people know you are looking for a job and to pass any relevant job leads onto you.
Go to online job boards, like indeed.com and monster, to browse positions. This is a great way to job hunt if you're looking for a job in a different state or region.
When forming your resume, put your most relevant education and work experience on the top. If you worked or interned in a hospital during med school, mention this information but leave out non-medical related jobs you might have taken during school to make ends meet.
3.Learn good interview skills. While waiting to hear back on the jobs you've applied to, brush up on good interview skills. If you get a call back, you'll be prepared to give an impressive interview.
Always listen in an interview. If they ask if you have any questions, always ask a broad, open-ended question to convey interest. Something like "What is the culture of this hospital like?" is far better than "When can I expect to hear back about the job?"
Do your research beforehand. Have some sense of the hospital's and the medical staff's accomplishments, reputation, and general philosophy before entering the interview.
Use body language that conveys confidence. Sit up straight, make eye contact, and give a firm, but non-aggressive, handshake.
Use specific examples from your past work experience. Have a list of moments, preferably ones that can be told in anecdotal form, that illustrate your strengths as an employee.