A coroner is an elected professional who determines a deceased person within their jurisdiction’s cause of death. They find out whether a person’s death is natural, violent, or by accident, but are usually called in for deaths that are unexpected, sudden, or need further investigation. This is where you may hear that the cause of death is a result of “foul play” or not as it is one of the main tasks of a coroner. Read on to learn about this profession and also find out how to become a coroner.
What does a coroner do?
Here is a list of detailed responsibilities and tasks of a coroner.
- Supervise examinations of a dead body to determine the cause of death
- Identify individuals responsible for the cause of a suspicious death
- Investigate deaths where the individual dies alone and without medical aid.
- Conduct investigations at crime scenes
- Gather medical historical data on the deceased
- Collaborate with other related professions such as forensic specialists, pathologists, toxicologists, investigators, law enforcers, detectives, and physicians
- Completion of death certificates, including time, date, and cause of death.
- Collecting and monitoring evidence
- Interviewing witnesses and family members
- Notifying families
- Ordering autopsies or post-mortem examinations
- Testifying in the court of law
- Writing reports and recommendations to prevent future deaths
How much does a coroner earn?
There is no exact figure to show us exactly how much a coroner’s annual salary is. A similar field, Forensic Science Technicians, earn about $60,590 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This could give us a rough estimate of a coroner’s average wage.
However, this could still vary greatly depending on the environment a coroner could work in. For example, someone who works in a lab will have fixed hours, and therefore a fixed income; whereas someone who works in the field may experience a lot of overtime due to the high demand for constant availability. As a result, the second person’s average wage will likely be higher than the previous one.
How to become a coroner
If you think you like the idea of investigating deaths, you would likely want to learn how to become a coroner. It may take a couple of years after high school (possibly up to medical licensing), but we’ve condensed it into three straightforward steps:
Finish high school
The path to becoming a coroner starts as early as high school. Since this career is so saturated in medicine, mathematics, and law, it would help if you took elective classes in life sciences and English while in high school. Some schools offer classes that get you ready for the medical field such as anatomy, physiology, and health-care intro courses. Taking these classes will ease you into the courses you will need to take during college and beyond in your journey towards becoming a coroner.
Complete a related degree
These degrees include Bachelor’s in biology, chemistry, or forensic sciences. In fact, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences has a list of schools that offer forensic science degrees.
After completing your Bachelor’s, you may want to proceed to a post-graduate degree. Most of the time, coroners need a medical degree or even a physician’s license in order to practice.
All in all, completing a Bachelor’s and post-graduate degree can take anywhere between 4 to 8 years of schooling, depending on the programs you attend.
Typically, these are the educational requirements for many coroners:
- Bachelor in Criminology, Forensic Science, or Medicine
- Completion of Med School
- Physician’s license
- Certified Forensic Pathologist
- Related work experience, especially in the medical field
In some states, coroners need to be certified death investigators in order to practice. Bodies like the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators are the ones who usually issue certifications for coroners who want to practice in states that have this regulation. Certifications can be either basic or advanced.
Basic Registry Certification
This simply validates that you have the basic knowledge and proficiency when it comes to death investigations. The certificate comes with a certification number which you can show to employers. To qualify for this exam, you must:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Have a high school diploma or equivalent
- Be currently employed in a coroner or medical examiner’s office
- Have at least 640 hours with or experience with a death scene investigation
Advanced Board Certification
This merit certifies that you are a master of death investigation. Just as the basic registry certification, the certificate comes with a certification number you can show prospective employers as part of your credentials. To become eligible for the board certification, you must:
- Meet all of the criteria for basic registry certification
- Have at least an associate degree
- Minimum number of hours of death investigation experience
Important qualities of a coroner?
There are natural characteristics that you have to possess to become a coroner and excel at the job. On top of good communication and collaboration skills for tasks like working with other forensic professionals and testifying in legal proceedings, a good coroner should possess these innate qualities:
A coroner’s job relies heavily on facts and evidence. That is why they need to be innately curious in order to search for even more information to come up with accurate conclusions. You should be able to look for clues, investigate individuals, and seek out information from different sources.
Attention to detail
Coroners make use of details to guide them in their investigation and research, so they need to become detail-oriented. Paying close attention and being meticulous about details is important because you wouldn’t want to miss out on important information that is crucial in determining a person’s cause of death.
Since a coroner’s work involves investigating, fact-finding, and reasoning, high-level skill in problem-solving and critical thinking is needed in order to perform effectively. A coroner analyzes and interprets information while also identifying gaps and discrepancies in the information that they have.
The path to becoming a coroner may be long and tedious, however, it is worth it if your dream is to become one. Meanwhile, before acquiring your license to practice, you can still work within the field of forensic science as you continue learning and work your way up to this special career.
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