Coroners investigate unexpected and unexplainable deaths and deaths that take place without a doctor present. You’ll seldom, if ever, perform autopsies or issue death certificates. Though many television procedurals feature female coroners, you need look no further than Catoosa County, Ga., and Saratoga County, N.Y., which both employ female coroners.
No Specialized Degree Needed
You may hear the job titles coroner and medical examiner used interchangeably. While both perform similar duties, they have different job requirements. Coroners are elected to serve and don’t need a medical degree. They need experience investigating deaths, though, either with a law-enforcement agency, coroner’s office or with a medical examiner. Medical examiners are appointed to serve and typically have a medical license.
To Catch a Predator
You’ll get to help police investigate violent or suspicious deaths. If your examination turns up evidence that indicates that a criminal or negligent act took place, and if police are later able to catch the culprit, then you’ve played a role in bringing a killer to justice. You may work alongside law enforcement agents, medical staff and personnel from fire departments and emergency services providers. Though the coroner plays a role in these investigations, she is also primarily responsible for taking care of the body.
As soon as you take possession of a body, it remains in your custody until the person’s family makes other arrangements. You are often the person who notifies a family when a loved one has died, and will give them any personal effects the person had. You also may comfort the deceased's family, either when they come to collect these personal effects or if they need to positively identify the body.
Show and Tell
You may get the chance to talk about the work you do to middle or high school students, or even at medical community meetings. Coroners in Charleston, S.C., for example, offer prevention programs for schools on drinking and driving, weapons awareness and alcohol and drug abuse. They also attend meetings for medical professionals and can talk about some of the different circumstances they've seen, such as a baby who died of SIDS.
An advantage coroners have over medical examiners is job security. Since coroners are voted into office, in many cases the only way to lose your job is if you’re voted out of office. Medical examiners are appointed to serve and can be removed from office as well.
A coroner in some states, such as Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia, can serve as acting sheriff if the sheriff is unable to serve. A coroner is also the only person who can serve a warrant on a sheriff, at the discretion of a probate judge. You can thank your British ancestors for creating a position for coroners to fill. The first coroner served in Great Britain in 1164 and the practice accompanied the colonialists who settled America.
- Charleston County South Carolina: Coroner’s Office
- The Times Union: Woman Coroner
- Catoosa County Government Website: Catoosa County Coroner
- Susquehanna Coroner's Office: What We Do
- City and County of San Francisco: Office of the Medical Examiner
- The Times and Democrat: Bartley Fired From Coroner's Office Before Indictment
- Findlaw.com: Alabama Code Section 11-5-5 -- When to Discharge Duties of Sheriff Generally
- WISTV.com: Chesterfield County Coroner to Serve as Acting Sheriff
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.