What Is a Coroner?

What is a coroner? What does this professional do? A coroner is either an elected or an appointed public official who works in specific geographic jurisdictions. The official duty of a coroner is to make inquiries about questionable deaths. The professional is responsible for determining the cause of suspicious deaths within that jurisdiction. Coroners work on unexpected and sudden deaths and know the circumstance or foul play that caused death. The coroner will decide whether that death is natural or not.

Many believe that medical examiners and coroners are the same professionals. However, they are different and require specific training and education to perform their jobs. We will know more about coroners in the following. We will cover qualifications, responsibilities, salaries, and the differences between these positions. Keep reading if you like this profession and want to become one.

A coroner investigates sudden or suspected deaths and prepares the death certificates. The professional assigns the death cause and manner and lists the details on the death certificate. However, the cause of death might be an injury, poison, or any disease. The coroner will know the exact cause and list it on the certificate. Also, the professional will decide whether the death is natural or not. The coroner will investigate all the possible aspects, including accident, suicide, homicide, or natural, and determine the cause. Mostly, a coroner gets appointed when some death is suspicious. When there is a possibility of foul play, a coroner investigates the case. Also, coroners can hire pathologists, physicians, or forensic officials for autopsies and know the exact cause of the death.

The duties of a coroner will vary based on the jurisdiction. When some jurisdictions require coroners with medical science training, others will not need specific training. Hence, you can inquire about your location and know the unique requirements. However, we will cover the basic requirements in this article, and you can have an overall idea about the qualifications you will need to become a coroner.

As stated earlier, there will be specific requirements for different jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, coroners need to be physicians. However, many localities do not require specific medical qualifications for coroners. In that condition, you do not need training in medicine to become a coroner. However, you might experience difficulties performing your duty when you will not have the medical expertise. You might need to hire concerned officials to support your investigation. Ten states require coroners as the death investigation officials. In brief, the duties and qualifications will not be the same for all the states. Hence, the salary will vary, but you can earn more with experience regardless of location.

What Does a Coroner Do?

Coroners determine the cause of suspicious deaths. They are responsible for inspecting any questionable death. They will study the remains and determine the cause and time of the suspicious death. After inspecting any suspicious death, they will issue a formal death certificate with all the aspects. When they suspect it is a homicide, they will collect evidence. The evidence will help in court proceedings. They will cover the death cause, time, and other things they find relevant to the untimely and sudden death.

Coroners supervise the death and examine the death scene and responsible parties. They also investigate deaths when people die without medical attention and additional support. Coroners visit death scenes, coordinate with forensic specialists, and work with investigators, toxicologists, physicians, and pathologists to know the cause of death.

Additionally, coroners will handle court proceedings. They will ensure their presence to get justice for the deceased. In some cases where the body has been buried, these professionals will permit to exhume the body for further investigation. Apart from all these, a coroner is responsible for the death investigation. The professional will report and share the findings with the court. Coroners will submit their investigation reports to the court, and the court will go through them before giving a judgment. Once the court checks the evidence, coroners can release the body for burial.

In some states, a coroner works as an investigator. He will act as a part of the judicial system. The professional will preside over the court proceedings and determine the cause of death. In some countries, these professionals act as a judge. Hence, the role of a coroner will vary based on state or country. They will perform different tasks, but their coverage area is suspected deaths. Here are some specific duties of a coroner.

  • Initiating investigations of suspicious deaths
  • Collecting evidence
  • Determining the cause of deaths
  • Signing the death certificate with the cause, time, and date of death
  • Working with different professionals
  • Identifying the deceased and collecting the medical histories
  • Interviewing family members and eyewitnesses
  • Arranging autopsies and notifying families
  • Managing court proceedings
  • Maintaining death certificates

How to Become a Coroner

As stated earlier, there will be different requirements based on the state. Hence, you can research your state laws to become a coroner. You will have to do some formal education before planning for specific courses. You might need a background in criminology, medicine, or a similar field. Here are the steps to becoming a coroner. However, you will have to know about the laws of your state to avoid last-minute confusion.

Complete High School Diploma

You will need a strong foundation in core subjects, including math, science, English, and history. It will help you to be a coroner. It is better if you can start your preparation from high school. You can enroll in appropriate courses when you know what you want to do. You can consider college prep courses and advanced placement courses and focus on math and science when interested in this profession. Some high school courses offer physiology, anatomy, and health care education. All these will prepare you for college, and you can pursue any program specified for this job.

Enroll in an Appropriate Degree Program

After completing high school, you can inquire about the available courses to become a coroner. You will need a bachelor’s degree in natural science to be a coroner. You can consider the chemistry, forensic science, or biology. After having a degree certificate, you can plan for a graduate degree. Check the American Academy of Forensic Science to know about the educational institutions that offer degrees in forensic science. Also, you will have to check the requirements of your state. Some states might require you to get a medical degree and become a licensed professional as a prerequisite for the coroner job. These courses might demand four to eight years based on your educational route. Hence, you will have to start your preparation early and research all the aspects to make the process smooth.

Get Certifications

The requirements will vary based on state. Some states might require a few certifications. You might need to be a certified death investigator from the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators or similar institutions. You can consider any of the following two certifications.

Registry Certification

Registry certification is a basic one that will prove that you have the required basic knowledge and proficiency in death investigations. However, you will need a few requirements to get this certification. First, you will have to meet the age requirements. The minimum age for this certification is eighteen years old. Also, you will need a high school diploma certificate or equivalent. You need to work in a coroner or medical examiner’s office with 640 hours of investigation experience in death. If you meet the above eligibility criteria, you can go ahead. You can get this certificate and secure your position. Once you complete it successfully, you will receive a certificate.

Board Certification

Board certification is an advanced level of certification, and it will prove your mastery of death investigation. But you will have to ensure that you are eligible for this certification. First, you can meet the eligibility criteria for registry certification and get an associate degree. Also, you will have to meet the minimum hours of investigation experience in death. Get the eligibility status and apply for this certification. After successful completion, you will get a certification number that your employers can use to verify your documents.

Acquire Specific Skills

In addition to certificates and degrees, you will need specific skills to perform the duties of a coroner. Coroners will deal with delicate and sensitive situations and information. Hence, you will need some skills and traits to support your profession. Here are some qualities you can develop to achieve more from this position.

Attention to Detail

As a coroner, you will be investing deaths, suspicious ones. Hence, you will have to investigate all possible aspects and get into details. It will help you to have a clear idea about death. Acute attention to every detail can enable you to solve the case within the deadline. You can collect all the sensitive information, communicate with other professionals, and talk to eyewitnesses. A complete and thorough observation can be possible if you give attention to every detail.


Since a coroner is an investigating professional, you can look for information and clues to understand a situation and solve the case. You will have to develop a natural curiosity to investigate all the possible aspects. You can collect information from different sources and cross-check them to recreate the exact scene.


Communication is one of the most required skills for coroners. You will need better verbal and written communication skills to guide your team. Also, good communication skills will enable you to communicate with family and eyewitnesses. You can talk to them and collect all the secret information. You can achieve this if you communicate tactfully and skillfully. You can develop trust to inspire others to share information without hesitation.

Critical Thinking

A coroner should be a critical thinker to analyze and interpret information quickly. The professional needs to focus on discrepancies, explain the reasoning, and show better problem-solving skills to make the investigation more effective. A critical thinker can think from all the possible aspects and complete the inquiry fast.

Additional Requirements

Some states will have specific requirements to become coroners. The law of your location might require a medical license to appoint you as a coroner. Here are some additional requirements you might need to meet while applying for this job.

  • Physician licenses
  • A bachelor’s degree in medicine, forensic science, criminology, or related fields
  • Medical school completion
  • Certified forensic pathologist
  • Experience in the medical field

How Long Does It Take to Become a Coroner?

It will mostly depend on your location. Some states require a few specific qualifications. First, you can become a medical doctor if you want to be a coroner. Hence, you need to enroll in a medical school and get a license before applying for this job. It might take up to eight years to become a licensed physician. Also, you will have to complete high school, and then you can pursue whatever you want based on your preference.

Before joining a medical school, you must complete your bachelor’s degree. You can consider your major in pre-medicine or any subject related to science. If you do your major with liberal arts, you will have to join required physics, biology, and chemistry courses.

Apart from all these, you will need experience in the medical industry. Most states will require certification in forensic pathology. You will also need a medical license for this position. Also, you will have to take job training before getting elected. Hence, you will have to spend years to get this job. You might be either elected or appointed based on your area.

How Much Does a Coroner Make?

We can compare a few comparable professions to estimate the average income of coroners. The forensic scientists will make around $66.181 annually, and criminal investigators will make $72,088. The coroners can earn similarly to these professions or more based on their locations.

In Sacramento County, California, coroners make between $37,062 and $47,293 per year, and a deputy coroner in Champaign County, Illinois, makes somewhere between $47,080 and $63,225. However, coroners will earn more once they have experience in the industry.

A top-level coroner earns around $52.86 per hour and $109,950 per year. The senior-level coroners will make $43.88 per hour and $91,260 per year. The earnings of mid-level coroners start at $33.20 per hour and $69,050 per year. However, the junior-level coroners will make less. Their income will begin at $24.54 per hour and $51,050 per year. Your earnings might not be satisfactory when you enter the industry. The entry-level coroners will start at $18.71 per hour and $38,920 per year. These are the overall estimation based on experience. However, you can make more while serving this industry.

What Is the Difference between a Coroner and a Medical Examiner?

Many think that a medical examiner and a coroner work in the same way. However, these professions are not the same in many aspects, even if they perform similar tasks. You will find the coroner job associated with Sheriff in many California Counties. However, a coroner is not a physician, and this professional does not receive training in medicine. Also, coroners will not require training in forensic science and forensic medicine in most states.

Medical examiners are physicians and require certifications from the American Board of Pathology. They need certifications in forensic pathology and other specialties. Also, you will not find a coroner job in some states, including San Francisco. The coroner, an ancient position, has been around since 1164. The medical examiner is a new addition and is different from coroners in many aspects.

A medical examiner determines the circumstances and cause of death found under suspicious conditions. These deaths are suspicious and need investigation. But medical examiners will not investigate deaths caused by natural diseases. However, all unnatural deaths, including suicide, homicide, or accidents, will come under the jurisdiction of medical examiners. A medical examiner will investigate the death and sign the death certificate.

Every state has its jurisdiction when it comes to a questionable death. When some follow a medical examiner system, others consider a coroner system. A few have both systems, but the process will vary based on the county level. The coroners have been around since the 1600s, and these professionals get elected or appointed for two to four years. The position is responsible for investigating suspicious deaths. But coroners might not require those certifications a medical examiner will need for the job.

Why does an area opt for a coroner instead of a medical examiner? Both coroners and medical examiners perform many similar tasks. But the requirements will vary, and their responsibilities will not be the same in all locations. Some counties prefer coroners when the crime is less, and they do not want to hire permanent staff to investigate any questionable death. As mentioned earlier, you might find both these positions in some states. Sometimes, one team will investigate a suspicious death. At other times, both will work together to investigate a questionable death. The process will vary based on the jurisdiction of the state.

Interested in other professions in the funeral industry? Check out our post on Funeral Directors.


Readinform is a Wisconsin based writer for funerals explained. They have come to understand the struggles of death and loss. Through life experience they have gathered the knowledge to help others and answer questions related to the funeral industry. When not writing readyinform focuses on learning new things and exploring the differences society offers.

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