Career Spotlight: Medicolegal Death Investigators

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Nurse writing death investigation report

What is a medicolegal death investigator? The American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) defines it as a professional who investigates any death that falls under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner or coroner, including all suspicious, violent, unexplained, and unexpected deaths.

The medicolegal death investigator is not responsible for crime scene investigation – that duty falls to local or federal law enforcement agents. But at a crime scene, or any other location of unexpected death, the medicolegal death investigator works with law enforcement and is responsible for the dead person. He or she performs limited investigations that directly involve the body of the deceased, then determines the extent to which further investigation is necessary.

There are no formal requirements for becoming a medicolegal death investigator. However, people who perform this job must be knowledgeable about state, local, and federal laws. They usually also have a medical background. According to ABMDI, “a medicolegal death investigator must be the most medically knowledgeable person at the scene of the crime to determine if further investigation is necessary.”

Nurses tend to make excellent medicolegal death investigators, and they are heavily represented in this field. The job is not for the faint of heart. It takes a certain type of nurse to be able to deal with death and dying all day, every day, and burnout is a problem in the profession. Furthermore, Stacey Mitchell, DNP, RN, Deputy Chief Forensic Nurse Investigator in the Harris County, TX, Medical Examiner’s Office points out that the details of the job can be gruesome. “We see a lot of things that are sad and disturbing, the worst of what people can do to other people,” she says.

For those who are good communicators and who have the stomach for this work, however, medicolegal death investigation can be a rewarding and fascinating career—and anyone wondering why get a masters in nursing may find the answer as they set their foot upon this career path. One educational option is Duquesne University’s online MSN in forensic nursing. Also offering Post-Master’s Certificate programs to meet the needs of all healthcare providers, Duquesne’s online master’s in nursing can provide a springboard to a position as a medicolegal death investigator or many other careers.

Duties of a Medicolegal Death Investigator

The specific duties of a medicolegal death investigator vary slightly from one location to another. However, a recent job posting for a position in the Knoxville, TN, medical examiner’s office sums up the main points, which will be similar in all medicolegal death investigator positions.

  • Seeks and gathers facts and additional data necessary to establish the medical examiner’s jurisdiction.
  • Communicates and coordinates with the medical examiner, the manager, medicolegal death investigators, family members, employers, witnesses, and personnel from law enforcement, hospital, medical, civil, mortuary, insurance, and other fields.
  • Responds to the death scene or body location under the direction of the chief of investigations and the medical examiner, as appropriate.
  • Inspects and documents by means of notes, diagrams, sketches, and photography the appearance and condition of the locale, body, and other pertinent objects on or near or associated with the body.
  • Coordinates the release and removal of the body with the appropriate responding law enforcement agency, as directed.
  • Assists the medical examiner with preliminary external examination of the body as appropriate with reference to identification of findings and factors related to time, place, manner, and cause of injury, disease, or death; and with reference to routine physical characteristic documentation and identity.
  • Assists the forensic anthropologist and the manager, medicolegal death investigators in obtaining antemortem dental or medical records necessary in the positive identification of human remains.
  • Obtains pertinent past and present medical, social, family, and other history from persons and sources associated with the decedent, including family, physicians, hospitals, coworkers, employers, and law enforcement agencies.
  • Supervises chain of custody in forensic cases, working closely with the law enforcement agencies to ensure appropriate release of evidence.
  • Initiates and assists with necessary follow-up investigations and communications with the appropriate law enforcement agencies and legal entities.
  • Acts as official representative of the medical examiner, as appropriate, for records review, discussions, and conferences with other agencies or for depositions or courtroom testimony.
  • Assists with necessary follow-up investigations and communications.


In addition to a medical background, most medicolegal death investigator positions require certification through ABMLI. Basic registry certification is the initial certification level that allows an individual to begin practicing. After 4,000 hours of death investigation experience within a six-year period, individuals can seek ABMLI board certification, a higher-level designation that opens correspondingly greater opportunities for the candidate.

Salary and Job Growth

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) assigns medicolegal death investigators to the “forensic science technician” category. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for these professionals in 2018 was $58,230.

The profession is projected to grow 17% by 2026—much faster than the annual average. However, the BLS cautions that because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 2,600 new jobs over the 10-year period. Competition for positions is expected to be strong. For qualified candidates, however, the high-interest work and the chance to help loved ones may make this profession worth the effort.

About Duquesne University’s Online MSN in Forensic Nursing

As a leader in online nursing education, Duquesne University has helped RNs learn the skills, strategies, and practices necessary to become forensic nurses. The coursework is presented entirely online, so students can maintain their careers and personal lives while pursuing their educational goals.

For more information, contact Duquesne University today.



Definition of medicolegal death investigator and requirements – American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators

Difficulties of the job – Medscape

Duties of a medicolegal death investigator – American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators

Registry certification – American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators

Board certification – American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators

Salary and job growth – Bureau of Labor Statistics