The Law Offices of Brian E. Quinn

Medical examiner v. coroner: Same job, different qualifications? p2

A doctor is a doctor, even if he or she is a coroner or a medical examiner. The job does not affect the duties and accountabilities of a medical professional. If you have a license to practice, you are bound by the rules, regulations and statutes of the state you practice in. Even if your patients are already dead when they come into your office.

For example, years ago a county coroner in Ohio was suspended for alcohol abuse. In the doctor's agreement with the state board of medicine, he admitted that his alcohol abuse rendered him "impaired in ability to practice according to acceptable and prevailing standards of care." In Ohio, a coroner must be a licensed physician. So, yes, even if you don't treat patients, you can lose your medical license for a time or forever.

In our last post, we were talking about the different duties the two offices might have. Remember, a coroner does not necessarily have to be a doctor, so he or she will not perform autopsies. Only a licensed physician, generally pathologist or forensic specialist, can do that.

The medical license drives the difference between the two jobs. The medical examiner, according to the National Library of Medicine, is directly responsible for the investigation of a suspicious death. In contrast, the coroner must make sure that investigation takes place. In old English novels, for example, the coroner conducted the inquest, but a doctor gave evidence concerning the cause of death.

Generally, Pennsylvania counties elect coroners. Philadelphia, however, abolished the office in the early 1950s and established in its place the Medical Examiner's Office. As expected, coroners do not need a medical license, but ME's do.

Their roles are slightly different. We'll finish this up in our next post.

Sources:

The Daily Standard, "County coroner's medical license suspended," Shelley Grieshop, Jan. 27, 2009

Lancaster County Coroner's Office and City of Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office websites, accessed May 8, 2015

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