The Importance of a Medical Examiner Assistant in Determining the Cause of Death

The role of a medical examiner assistant is to work alongside pathologists to establish the medical cause of death. Most of the duties are similar to those of a medical examiner with the exception that an assistant does not form a diagnosis. Each state requires the presence of a pathologist when the medical examiner assistant is working.

Job description for an examiner assistant

When a body is brought to a coroner’s office, an examiner assistant is required to carry out a basic examination and document their findings for the consideration of the pathologist. During the autopsy by the pathologist an assistant will participate by collecting and labelling samples which are sent to a laboratory for testing. The examiner’s assistant also needs to be present when a body has been discovered to assist in the collection of specimens and to ensure the body is transported correctly. Duties also involve completing reports which record the findings of the medical examiner. After the medical examiner has prepared the report stating the cause of death, it is normally the responsibility of the pathology assistant to pass on this information to family members, as well as dealing with law enforcement if the death is considered suspicious. Specific job responsibilities vary according to employers.

Personal description and skills

This type of job description requires an assistant to have certain skills as well as training. The ideal candidate needs to be compassionate as they face the challenging task of telling loved ones how a person has died, which is even more difficult if the death has been untimely or suspicious. They also need to be comfortable dealing with dead bodies and have to be prepared for many disturbing scenarios involving death. Therefore this career choice is not for everyone and needs to be carefully considered.

Training for profession

Medical Examiner AssistantAn examiner assistant requires a high level of education and comprehensive training. The job requires individuals to have a doctorate in medicine from an accredited university as well as a period of internship in a hospital. The amount of experience as a doctor varies but usually a minimum of five years is required.

After this you need to complete a residency in pathology which is normally a four year program. Medical examiner assistant training will cover courses in clinical and anatomical pathology which can be combined with specialities in the field such as autopsy, surgical and forensic pathology, cytopathology, neuropathy, medical microbiology and clinical chemistry. Students also attend autopsy conferences and research seminars and complete on-site experience.

Subsequent to graduating you need to pass an examination set by the American Board of Pathology in order to obtain certification. Examinations are offered twice a year in Spring and Fall and cost between $1,800 and $2,200. Periodic recertification is required through further examination or through continuing education.


Most states require that a person be licensed to practise as a medical examiner assistant. This involves passing an examination set by the state in which you will seek employment. For those who move to a different state, there is the possibility of obtaining a waiver in which the state agrees to respect the other state’s license so that the examination does not have to be repeated.

Salary expectations

The salary for an examiner assistant ranges from $100,000 to $175,000 being influenced primarily by experience. It is therefore a highly lucrative career. However, this job requires such a high level of training and necessitates a certain type of candidate so it is very important to think carefully about the job before choosing to become a medical examiner assistant.

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