The Difference Between a Coroner and a Forensic Pathologist

Forensic Pathologist at work

One of the areas of medicine that many people do not consider when planning their career is the care for the deceased. Most of us roughly understand what a morgue is and that someone is present to look after the dead and potentially perform an autopsy, but, due mainly to crime dramas portraying them homogenously, many could not tell you the difference between a Coroner and a Forensic Pathologist.

In this article, we will be shedding light on an area of medicine that is vital to the care of the approximately 7,452 people who die every day in the United States and clarifying the difference between these similarly presented, but radically different roles.

What Is a Coroner?

Most people wrongly assume that a coroner has to have some form of medical training and, in many states, that just isn’t the case.

A coroner is generally an elected official who does not need to have any prior medical training to hold the post. This varies in some jurisdictions, and may coroners do have a medical or law enforcement background, but there is no absolute need for a medical qualification.

What Does a Coroner Do?

A coroner has the power to assess the deceased and potentially call for an inquest into their death. If the coroner does not have the skill to perform a medical investigation, they usually differ to a local doctor.

Depending on the state, a coroner might also have the power to issue a subpoena in support of such an inquest.

What Is a Forensic Pathologist?

A forensic pathologist, also known as a medical examiner (ME), is not an elected position. MEs often need to have significant medical qualifications to work in their field and most forensic pathologists need to be board certified before taking up the post.

What Does a Forensic Pathologist?

Forensic pathologists have a set of overlapping duties with coroners around finding the true causes of death, but forensic pathologists are able to perform medical operations while coroners may specialize in the legal paperwork and law enforcement side of a death.

The most effective situation is generally where a forensic pathologist and a coroner work hand in hand to cover the same jurisdiction with the forensic pathologist taking care of the medical side and the coroner taking care of the paperwork.

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Written by:

Jenette Ashcraft, N.C.M.A.
Allied Health Department Director
R.M.A. National Education Center