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The term coroner has different meanings, depending on the country that one resides in. Some coroners in the United States (depending on the state) are specialized physicians, or medical examiners, with training in forensic pathology, and yet others are elected officials who are typically voted in at the county level. In other countries they are an official of the court who heads up the investigations of deaths for the court system.
A coroner is responsible for the dead bodies that come into the morgue. If the death seems suspicious, they begin an investigation into the cause of death. Most countries believe that a death that occurs outside of the traditional hospital facility is potentially suspicious, so most deaths are investigated by a coroner. They are responsible for studying the remains and determining a time and a cause of death. They will also issue the formal death certificate which states all of the aspects of the death. If the death is ruled a homicide, the information gathered will be used in any future court proceedings.
Coroners also deal with court proceedings. In the event of an investigation into a death where the body has already been buried, the coroner gives permission for the body to be exhumed. They are also responsible for handling all of the aspects of the death investigation and reporting the information to the courts. Once the investigation has finished and the courts are done with the remains, they release the body to the family for burial.
In some countries, coroners act more within the role of an investigator, and are a part of the court system. They also preside over the court proceedings to determine an official cause of death. Evidence is presented through the court, and a cause of death is determined with the coroner acting as a judge over the proceedings.
It is important to understand what role of medical examiner one is entering, depending on the country of residence. The workplace environment of a coroner can be very different from country to country and even state to state. Some court coroners work both in the court and in the morgue. Some work involves crime scene investigation and the gathering of evidence.
Coroners normally have a private office to allow for the review of documents and reports to determine a cause of death and gather pertinent evidence for the courts. In the office, they draw up important documents and death certificates. They also keep records on deaths and investigations.
The coroner's job is not for everyone. Some people find that dealing with human remains is too difficult. When the medical examiner takes on the role of a crime scene investigator, it can become graphic and too emotionally overwhelming for some individuals.
In most counties in the United States, a coroner is elected, or voted in. At this point, they need to complete a coroner training program, which covers topics like injury recognition, causes and manner of death, suicides, abuse recognition and death investigation laws. A training program like this requires 40 hours to complete, and can be done in one week. A coroner is required to keep up-to-date with legal and practical changes in the death investigation industry, and it is mandatory to participate in on-going education. Coroners can also continue on to get their Death Investigators Certification, with some states requiring their coroners to achieve certification during their term.
A person who wants to become a medical examiner must complete a doctor of medicine degree. Medical school lasts four years. The first two years include more book study, while the last two years are more physical work in medicine. The student must take their residency in forensic pathology. This forensic training normally lasts about four years, but students can go on further into specialty forensics.
After the completion of a residency program, the student will join a fellowship working under a medical examiner. Here, they will learn all of the ins and outs of the field. The fellowship training allows for the individual to learn crime scene investigation, medical examination of the remains, and preparing court documents on homicides and other types of deaths. The fellowship programs for medical examiners normally last a year. The fellowship can go on longer at the discretion of the program and the country that the program is taking place in.
Depending on the country that one studies in, after the fellowship, certification is required. Most countries require a certification exam for licensure to act as a coroner in an official capacity. In the United States, the state certification exam is given by the American Board of Pathology.
Not all counties use the medical examiner system. Some counties use coroners and a coroner's system. There are two major differences between medical examiners and coroners and their corresponding systems.
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The college requirements for becoming a coroner vary depending on the state law where you live. Only 28 states use the coroner system.