Medical examiners peform autopsies to determine time and cause of death.
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In cases of suspicious death, investigators and police bring in a medical examiner to help search for clues as to how the person died and ultimately identify the killer. Medical examiners also work outside of suspicious deaths and murder cases, examining remains of people who died of natural or accidental causes. Medical examiners hold medical degrees and receive their positions by appointment, whereas coroners do not have to have medical degrees and act as elected officials.
The path to becoming a medical examiner takes years of schooling. Following a four-year bachelor's degree, a medical examiner must earn a medical degree, take part in a five-year residency in anatomic and clinical pathology and do a one-year fellowship in forensic pathology. Along with the schooling, a medical examiner must pass the Medical Boards in Anatomic Pathology and the Medical Boards in Forensic Pathology. To keep his license current, the medical examiner takes a minimum of 20 hours of medical continuing education courses each year.
A medical examiner's main job is to examine bodies and look for signs of trauma or other causes of death. The medical examiner checks investigative and police reports and looks at the medical records of the deceased, looking for clues as to what caused the death. Additionally, the medical examiner looks at bodily tissues under a microscope and reviews toxicology reports. After all his research, the medical examiner writes up his findings and presents them to police officers, investigators and family members. The medical examiner may also be called as an expert witness for court cases.
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Several entities employ medical examiners, including local, state and national governments. Many city and county governments operate medical examiner's offices, often with one or more medical examiners working in that area. Each state also employs a board of medical examiners. The military uses medical examiners, as do private companies, medical schools and other colleges and universities. As part of the hiring process, many employers require the medical examiner to undergo an extensive interview process, as well as take an exam testing the candidate's knowledge.
The salary of a medical examiner varies depending on the area of the country where he works and his employer. On average, medical examiners make between $150, 000 and $250, 000 a year. In Texas in 2012, the salary for a medical examiner started at just over $173, 000 and went up to $202, 000. For areas of the country with higher costs of living, the average salary is higher, such as in Cook County in Illinois, where medical examiners make between $131, 000 and $230, 000 a year, as of 2012.