Medical examiners investigate sudden, unexpected or violent deaths. They bring their medical knowledge and perspective to bear in determining if a person died of natural causes, suicide, another's intentional act or accident. The examiners' results may spark criminal prosecutions or civil lawsuits. Medical examiners must relay knowledge clearly and effectively to other physicians, attorneys, law enforcement agents and jurors or judges during trials. Other duties often include consulting with organ and tissue donor agencies.
Medical examiners must hold a license to practice medicine in their states and, typically, must be certified in anatomic pathology or death investigations. In states such as Mississippi, county medical examiners must be trained by the state crime laboratory in death investigations. Local medical examiners in Virginia are recommended, but not required, to have pathology certifications because they determine cause of death only in limited cases.
Medical examiners' salaries generally start on the low end at $110,000 and run to more than $300,000 for chief examiners, who often have supervisory duties over staff and death investigations. For instance, Los Angeles County's chief can earn as much as $310,481, depending on experience. Salaries, among chief and assistant examiners alike, differ by state, city and county. The range for an assistant medical examiner in Alaska's State Medical Examiner's Office is $182,000 to $199,000. An associate medical examiner in Tampa, Florida, makes between $157,781 and $242,930, according to information compiled by the Onondaga County, New York, health department. Local medical examiners appointed by Virginia's Chief Medical Examiner are paid $150 per case and $50 for site visits.
Most medical examiners work for state and local governments; budgets and funding constrain their salaries. The salaries for many of the highest-paid chief medical examiners are lower than the 2010 median salaries for anesthesiologists, general surgeons and physicians in specialty practices, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many assistant or deputy medical examiners earn less than the median pay for many other physicians. Medical examiners are among the highest-paid public servants because they are licensed physicians.
As population increases, there will inevitably be more deaths and, thus, need for death investigations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects average job growth through 2018 among medical examiners and coroners. The Illinois Department of Employment Security predicts 180 openings for coroners per year in Illinois. Entry into the field in many geographic areas may be constrained because funds are not available to add positions.