Medical Examiner Career Information

In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of people seeking a career in forensic science. This web page is designed to meet this growing community interest by providing basic information about forensic science careers. The information contained herein is appropriate for all ages.

What is Forensic Science?

Forensic science is the scientific analysis and documentation of evidence suitable for legal proceedings. Many people have heard the term “forensics” used to describe school debate clubs. There is a similarity between these two forms of the word. In academic forensics, political or other issues are debated between two teams using a logical approach, and likewise in forensic science the debate (or comparison) is between the physical evidence and the known or suspected circumstances about an event. Forensic scientists determine scientific facts from the evidence they evaluate and may testify as expert witnesses in civil or criminal courts or other legal proceedings. It is the responsibility of the lawyers, judges, and juries to prosecute, defend, and judge the guilt or innocence of an individual accused of wrongdoing. It is the responsibility of the forensic scientist to present the scientific facts in a fair, objective manner based on accepted scientific methods to facilitate the decision.

How Many Disciplines are in Forensic Science?

There is no definite answer to this question, since the types of physical evidence presented for analysis are immense and continue to expand. When physical evidence is recovered, it is up to the police, prosecuting attorney, or defense attorney to find the appropriate specialist to analyze the evidence. For example, if hair is found in association with a crime scene, then a hair and fiber expert, who is trained to analyze hair, would be the appropriate scientist to conduct the analysis. The court determines whether a scientist qualifies as an expert witness to help the jury interpret the evidence. Basically, there are as many experts as there are people who have a familiar technical knowledge of the items submitted for analysis.

The American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) is an organization of approximately 5000 forensic scientists located throughout the world. The AAFS is subdivided into 10 sections:

  • Criminalistics
  • Engineering Sciences
  • Jurisprudence
  • Odontology
  • Pathology & Biology
  • Physical Anthropology
  • Psychiatry & Behavioral Science
  • Questioned Documents
  • Toxicology
  • General Section

Each of these is described in more detail in the AAFS Career Brochure. Below are some suggested links that will contain more links:

Specialties in the Hamilton County Medical Examiner Office

Two specialties represented in the Hamilton County Medical Examiner Office are forensic pathology and forensic anthropology (see the “Pathology & Biology” and “Physical Anthropology” sections in the AAFS Career Brochure for more information on each).


are specialists in the study of disease. Forensic pathologists are pathologists who have subspecialized in medicolegal issues. A forensic pathologist must complete medical school, pathology residency, and additional training in forensic pathology (usually a forensic pathology fellowship).

Forensic Anthropology

is the medicolegal study of the human skeleton. Forensic anthropologists assist the Medical Examiner in identifying individuals who are unrecognizable due to burning, disfigurement, decomposition, and/or skeletonization. Forensic anthropologists must have at least a Master’s degree from a university offering graduate-level specialization in forensic work. Training and experience in archaeology is increasingly becoming more required of forensic anthropologists.

What Educational Opportunities are Available in the Hamilton County Medical Examiner Office?

The Hamilton County Medical Examiner Office is funded primarily by Hamilton County taxpayers. The State of Tennessee provides some services through the TBI Crime Lab with state tax monies. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Tennessee provides educational and administrative support for County Medical Examiners but does not directly control individual counties.

Our office has no university affiliation, and therefore no internship or fellowship programs. We have no system in place to train or direct the professional development of students in any field.

Please do not contact our office regarding the viewing of autopsies. This is a medicolegal procedure that requires intense concentration and entails the discovery of sensitive information that is not appropriate for public display. The procedure also involves potential exposure to fluid borne and airborne pathogens. Therefore, the protection and safety of participants must meet the standards of Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration(TOSHA). Hamilton County cannot carry any liability for non-employees.

State of Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners

The State of Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, within the Department of Public Health, is a physician licensing and review board for physicians in the State of Tennessee. The State Board of Medical Examiners has nothing to do with the administration of the County Medical Examiner system, except for overseeing physician licenses.

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