Many people aren’t aware of the inner workings of death care and all the different players that are involved. If the circumstances surrounding the death are unknown or suspicious, a coroner, forensic pathologists and/or medical examiner could be needed.
Often these professionals are confused with one another because they can all be part of a death investigation, and some of their job roles do overlap. However, each professional has a unique position in the death care industry.
Below is a quick comparison of coroners, forensic pathologists and medical examiners so you know what to expect if there’s a death investigation.
A coroner could be a licensed physician, but having a medical degree isn’t necessary since they typically don’t perform autopsies, toxicology examinations, etc. Today, a coroner’s role is more supportive and less medical. They help with aspects of a death investigation including:
- Identification of a body
- Transporting the body
- Finalizing death certificates
- Conducting fieldwork and interviews
- Gathering evidence for medical examiners and forensic pathologists
Not surprisingly, many sheriffs take on the role of coroner for the county they serve. That is, if there’s a coroner for the county. There’s a reason why you don’t hear about coroners as much these days. It’s because medical examiners that are able to perform more duties are making the job obsolete in many ways.
A forensic pathologist is a medical professional that assists with death investigations. Pathology is the scientific study of bodily fluids and tissue in order to make diagnosis and treat diseases. To become a pathologist a physician must receive additional training in a pathology residency program after completing medical school.
Forensic pathology is a subspecialty of pathology that requires even more training. After becoming a pathologist a physician can then complete a forensic pathology fellowship to become a forensic pathologist.
The training for forensic pathology focuses on the investigative nature of the work and evidentiary procedures that should be used. Fellows in a forensics pathology program learn how to:
- Perform autopsies
- Read toxicology reports
- Examine death scenes
- Do ballistics/firearm examinations
- Review the testimony of witnesses
- Conduct forensic serology
- Use DNA technology
Forensic pathologists can work in the public sector for the government, usually at a Medical Examiner’s Office. If the county has a coroner, forensic pathologists are called on to conduct the autopsy and any lab work that’s needed for analysis. They can also be employed by a private forensics lab that’s hired by individuals to determine the cause of a death, verify the results of an autopsy, obtain information for insurance purposes or a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Forensic pathologists that are appointed to run a Medical Examiner’s Office get promoted to the role of medical examiner or chief medical examiner. However, when a county uses a coroner system, then medical examiner may be the job title given to all forensic pathologists who work for the local government. And that is why there’s so much confusion between medical examiners, forensic pathologists and coroners.
Either way, a medical examiner has to specialize in forensic pathology and be certified by the American Board of Pathology, however, they don’t have to be the one performing the day-to-day investigative tasks. A medical examiner that oversees the office has many administrative and managerial responsibilities. They are essentially the director of the Medical Examiner’s Office who’s in charge of its functioning.
If you are having to work with a Coroner’s Office or Medical Examiner’s Office we can help. Direct Cremate can work with the office to arrange transportation to the crematorium and make any other arrangements that are needed prior to cremation.
Give us a call 24/7 to learn how we can help you navigate the death care system.