March 13, 2014
Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.
The medical examiner’s office is the setting for many a television crime drama. If you love medical TV, you may think you know a lot about the job of the coroner, and you may be interested in becoming one yourself. Here is a brief guide to pursuing this medical career.
What Does the Coroner Do?
The coroner goes by a number of different titles: medical examiner, forensic pathologist, or forensic scientist. The coroner is involved in cases where there is a cause to believe that a death is suspicious and needs further explanation. Typically, the coroner is called in to confirm a suicide or death of a child; however, all deaths that seem suspicious are eligible for inspection by the coroner’s office. Because explaining these deaths is not always straightforward, be prepared to perform an autopsy on the deceased. This detailed procedure, as you might know, involves the removal and examination of the body’s organs, performing toxicology testing, and inspecting the body for trace clues to confirm the manner of death.
The coroner does not spend all his/her time examining remains however. As a coroner, you can expect to be called to crime scenes to assist in solving a homicide, suicide, or accidental death, depending on the scope of your job duties (not all coroners are called to a scene).
Your ultimate task as a coroner is to answer questions about the deceased: Who is this person (as identity is not always known)? What caused him to die? What was the manner of his death (e.g., homicide, suicide, natural death, etc.)? Your answers to these questions eventually become a public record in the form of a death certificate.
Your job as a coroner is no necessarily an independent one. You’ll work within a team of other medical and criminal justice professionals to piece together the story of your deceased. You’ll work in connection with law officials and other qualified pathologists and forensic scientists to draw conclusions about the cause and manner of death of those who cross your examination table. The coroner is not an isolated position; while much time is spent with the deceased, an equal amount is spent in consultation with other professionals to find answers to questions of an individual’s death
Your job as the coroner is less hands-on than you might think. In many cases, you are a public servant and administrator accounting for the deceased in the community in which you serve. You will also help facilitate families’ questions and logistics with the respect to the death of their loved ones. This explanation makes a career as a coroner much less glamorous than seen on television, but in this important job, you’ll be working for the good of the community in which you live and serve.
Training to Become a Coroner
The training requirements to become a coroner vary by state; if you live in Nebraska, you’ll find different requirements than if you live in California or Florida. Since medical school is not always required to become a coroner, you will want to spend a significant amount of your undergraduate studies taking science and criminal justice courses, including biology, chemistry, microbiology, anthropology, forensic science, and jurisprudence. It is critical that you research the state(s) in which you might plan to live and work. The varied nature of coroner education requirements makes choosing a career path as a coroner slightly tricky. In some states, you must be a licensed physician, so medical school is required. In other states, no medical school is required, but you must be an officer of the law.
The minimum amount of education required for this position is a bachelor’s degree in a science or legal major. If you can manage a double major in both, that would surely secure your career path as a coroner.
Ultimately, your ability to secure a position as a coroner is less dependent on what you know as whom you know. The medical examiner in many counties and states is an appointed or elected position. Thus, to become a coroner, making the proper networking connections is crucial to your career development and goals.
Where and When You’ll Work As a Coroner
As a coroner, you may work in a number of different places, depending upon the path you choose. You can work for your local government; know that to secure this workplace location, you will need to be elected or appointed. You can also work at the state and federal government level in a public health capacity, such as a state’s Department of Health or in the Centers for Disease Control. Your schedule can either be varied or predictable, depending upon the location of your work. If you work at the state level, expect a significant amount of travel to various scenes. If you work at the local level in a laboratory, your hours might be more standard. The coroner, however, is nearly always on call. This 24/7 job is not for the faint at heart or those who value the 9-5 workday. No two days as a coroner are the same.
Salary and Outlook
Obtaining the training to become a coroner is relatively straightforward. However, these are highly regarded positions that are often difficult to obtain. You may decide to start out working in medical examiner’s office as a laboratory technician and work your way up through the system. You’ll have the best opportunity to secure a coroner’s position if you have specialized training in digital forensics or a DNA specialty, as these two subfields are increasingly in demand. As this position is typically a government sector job, your pay will be commensurate with other public servants. The lowest paid coroners earn roughly $32,000, but the highest paid make nearly $100,000. You’ll need to determine whether the lower, public salaries are worth the amount of training and potential long hours you’ll be working. As an increasingly high-interest and in-demand career, competition for these position will be fierce. You must be prepared to struggle to become a coroner.
Is This the Right Career For You?
Becoming a coroner requires a temperament to handle graphic scenes, think analytically, pay attention to small details, and be confident in drawing conclusions based on the data you’ve collected. This is a career for science-minded individuals. The pay is significantly lower than other medical professions, but it offers a unique opportunity to contribute to a community’s stability and healing. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.