The role of a coroner is to establish a cause of death of a deceased individual. They are typically medically trained and have a vast understanding of forensic science. To determine cause of death, they may need to visit the scene of death and perform autopsies, where they examine evidence on and around the body for clues.
They must be adept at using equipment that is used at crime scenes. Corners are also involved with issuing death certificates, supervising body transportation, contacting next of kin, and identifying human remains.
The information obtained and disseminated by a coroner is crucial to providing answers for families and the criminal justice system. Because of the importance of their judgments, they must have the following qualities and skills:
Resilient to stress
Communication skills (speaking, writing, reading, and listening)
Aptitude for science
Problem solving and critical thinking
Ability to teach
Management of personnel and records
Coroner Work Environment
The majority of coroners work for local and state governments. They may work for police departments, crime laboratories, morgues, or at medical examiners’ office. The physical setting of their job varies from case to case and includes a combination of outside work (in various elements) and time in laboratories.
Although their examinations are often conducted independently, most coroners work as part of a team, with other technicians, police detectives, and specialists.
It is possible to travel to various localities, especially if one works for a state government. For coroners and technicians who work mostly in a laboratory setting, the hours will typically be routine and fulltime. For those working more in the field in an investigative capacity, hours may vary widely due to the unpredictable nature of death and crimes.
As of May 2014, the median annual salary for a coroner was $55,360. The range in salary for this occupation is anywhere between $33,610 and $91,400. Some positions may require overtime, holiday, weekend, evening, and on-call availability.
Coroner Career Outlook
Although the job growth expected for this occupation will be 27 percent over the next decade, the competition will still be strong due to the limited number of positions that coroners hold. Due to technological advancements, criminal investigators and court systems will rely upon the evidence and expertise of forensic science technicians; therefore, the desire for more positions will grow.
Governments of all sizes and capabilities may face budgetary constraints while attempting to fund these positions. Many smaller departments rely more heavily upon part-time personnel, as opposed to full-time employees for these services.
Coroners and all other forensic science technicians must have at least a bachelor’s degree in an applicable field. To be more competitive, many students may opt to also earn a master’s degree in a more specific field, such as forensic science. Some positions may require a medical degree as well.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Forensic science is a large field, and aspiring technicians should specialize in fields, such as natural science, chemistry, or biology. Many forensic and criminal justice degrees exist, in which students can concentrate on toxicology, pathology, and DNA studies. The most typical course of action is to earn a degree in natural science and pursue a graduate degree for more specialization.
Note: Each state has individual requirements that vary significantly. For example, Kansas, Louisiana, and Ohio require their coroners to become certified forensic pathologists, which demands completing medical school. This path also requires a four-year residency and a one-year fellowship. Additionally, North Dakota law requires that its larger counties’ coroners be licensed physicians.