Medical Examiner : FAQ's
do Medical Examiners do?
Examiners perform postmortem examinations on decedents. They review
medical records and investigator reports. They examine glass slides
of tissue samples under a microscope to identify diseases or anomalies.
They review toxicology reports for evidence of chemical abnormalities
or drug use or abuse. They dictate a report of findings as to the cause
and manner of death. They meet with law enforcement officers, attorneys
and family members to explain my findings. They appear in court to testify
as an expert witness.
education is required to qualify as a specialist in your work?
graduate education and training include four years of medical school,
a five year residency in anatomic and clinical pathology, and a one
year fellowship in forensic pathology. Following the residency you must
pass Medical Boards in Anatomic Pathology and following the fellowship
you need to pass Boards in Forensic Pathology. A medical doctor is also
required to take a minimum of 20 hours of approved medical education
every year to maintain their medical license.
Describe the kind of person it takes to be a Medical Examiner.
are many different types of people in forensic pathology. In general,
most doctors tend to be very objective, analytical and overachievers.
Doctors that go into forensic pathology must like both the medical and
the legal aspects of the work, they must be observant and like to put
all the information and clues together to find the reason why a person
died. This is true whether the person died of natural or accidental
causes or a homicide.
happens when you arrive at the scene of a crime?
- An understanding
of the scene of death is frequently critical to an accurate assessment
of the cause and manner of death. Generally there are medical investigators
who go to the scene and collect information to report back to the medical
examiner. The steps taken at the scene depend on what type of case is
being investigated. In the case of an infant who has died in his or
her sleep, where the infant was found and the type of bedding around
the infant are important factors. If it is suspected that the death
is related to the dead person becoming too hot (hyperthermia), the temperature
where they were found would be important.
Medical Examiners become immune to what they see?
- No, but
it is important to maintain a clinical detachment in order to do the
is the difference between an ME and Coroner?
- A medical
examiner is always a medical doctor, usually a forensic pathologist
who has received training in this specialty. A medical examiner certifies
a death based on his or her expert opinion following an investigation
and medical examination or an autopsy of the decedent. A medical examiner
also completes a report to document and support his or her findings.
Most medical examiners are appointed to their positions. A coroner is
an elected official. Coroners are usually not required to be doctors,
but the requirements depend on the laws governing the jurisdiction.
Usually coroners come from law enforcement or funeral home backgrounds,
but they may also be doctors who have run for the office of coroner.
Coroners may hold public inquests to determine the cause and manner
of death. They may have a doctor examine the body and report their findings
at the inquest. Usually coroners have some law enforcement or legal
powers, such as subpoena powers, but it varies depending on the laws
in their jurisdiction. Medical examiners are usually not a part of law
enforcement. Generally medical examiners are in agencies separate from
law enforcement and the criminal justice system to preserve their objectivity.
For example, in Maricopa County the Office of the Medical Examiner is
under the County Health Department. This is not unusual. The Maricopa
County Office of the Medical Examiner handles over 5,000 cases a year,
but only about 10% are homicides. Arizona State statutes provide for
a medical examiner system based in each county. There is no coroner
in Arizona. Each state has different laws and each jurisdiction operates
differently, but these are the basic differences between a medical examiner
and a coroner.
Forensic Science Center
701 West Jefferson
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Ph: 602-506-3322 Fax: 602-506-1546