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A medical examiner is a medically qualified officer whose duty is to investigate deaths and injuries that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances, to perform post-mortem examinations, and in some jurisdictions to initiate inquests.
A medical examiner's duties may vary depending on location. Typically, a medical examiners duties may include:
- investigating human organs like the stomach, liver, brain,
- determining cause of death,
- issuing death certificates,
- maintaining death records,
- responding to deaths in mass disasters,
- identifying unknown dead, or
- performing other functions depending on local law.
In some jurisdictions, a coroner performs these and other duties. Within the United States, there is a mixture of coroner and medical examiner systems, and in some states, dual systems. The requirements to hold office vary widely between jurisdictions.
In the UK, formal medical training is required for medical examiners. Many employers also request training in pathology while others do not. In the UK, a medical examiner is always a medically trained professional, whereas a coroner is a judicial officer.
Pilot studies in Sheffield and 7 other areas, which involved medical examiners looking at more than 27,000 deaths since 2008, found 25% of hospital death certificates were inaccurate and 20% of causes of death were wrong. Dr Suzy Lishman, president of the Royal College of Pathologists, said it was crucial there was “independent scrutiny of causes of death”.
Qualifications for medical examiners in the US vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In Wisconsin, for example, some counties do not require individuals to have any special educational or medical training to hold this office. In most jurisdictions, a medical examiner is required to have a medical degree, although in many this need not be in pathology. Other jurisdictions have stricter requirements, including additional education in pathology, law, and forensic pathology. Medical examiners are typically appointed officers. They are typically medical officers that perform autopsy procedures on the human body.
In popular culture
Medical examiners are common characters in many crime shows, especially American shows. The following characters are well known medical examiners:
- Dr. Max Bergman in Hawaii Five-0, is the chief medical examiner who works closely with the Governor of Hawaii's task force
- Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh in Crossing Jordan
- Dr. Sid Hammerback, in the CSI: NY, is the chief medical examiner
- Dr. Megan Hunt in Body of Proof
- Dr. Maura Isles in Rizzoli and Isles, is the chief medical examiner
- Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard in NCIS (TV series), is the chief medical examiner
- Dr. Henry Morgan in Forever
- Dr. Lanie Parish and Dr. Sidney Perlmutter in Castle
- Dr. R. Quincy in Quincy, M.E., is the Los Angeles County medical examiner
- Dr. Albert "Al" Robbins in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, is the chief medical examiner
- Dr. Betty Rogers in Motive, is the chief medical examiner
- Dr. Camille "Cam" Saroyan in Bones (TV Series)
- Dr. Dana Scully in the The X-Files
- Dr. Melinda Warner in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
- Dr. Joanne Webster in Unforgettable
- Dr. Alexx Woods in CSI: Miami
- Dr. Jan Garavaglia in Dr.G: Medical Examiner
- "Coroner vs. medical examiner". Visible Proofs. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
- "Medical examiners help expose patient safety risks". Health Service Journal. 12 February 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
- Coroners and Medical Examiners: A Comparison of Options Offered by Both Systems in Wisconsin Jenifer Keach, Rock (WI) County Coroner, April 6, 2010
- National Academy of Sciences, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, (2009), p 241-253.