Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $132,454)
In its May 19, 2016 “Recommendation to the Attorney General,” the National Commission on Forensic Science recognized a shortage of board certified forensic pathologists and a backlog of cases in most medical examiner and coroner offices. These problems affect the quality, completeness and timeliness of death investigations, which can have a negative impact on families who lost their loved ones and on criminal justice proceedings. The Commonwealth of Virginia is impacted by this shortage and, through its Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), proposes to address this through an application for funding to identify and intensively train one forensic pathology fellow. Forensic pathologists conduct death investigations in order to understand cause and manner of death, as well as the circumstance surrounding deaths. A critical component of the shortage in Virginia relates to the increase of sudden, violent and suspicious deaths requiring a death investigation in the context of shrinking state budgets for medical examiner services. In the period between 2011 and 2020, Virginia’s OCME has had a 119.1% increase in the number of cases investigated statewide. Deaths attributed to accidental causes (particularly overdoses and falls), homicides, and natural deaths under OCME jurisdiction all rose substantially, while suicides and deaths due to undetermined manners increased minimally. This project will meet two goals: First, it will increase the number of qualified forensic pathologists in Virginia and the United States by mentoring and training one forensic pathology fellow to meet board certifiable standards. The Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Forensic Pathology Fellowship is an accredited twelve month training program. Training includes the performance of forensic autopsies and external views; preparation of autopsy reports and other documents showing injury and disease patterns; evaluation of death reports from hospitals, health care providers, and law enforcement; interpretation of toxicological reports; scene response and investigation; and proper evidence handling. Virginia’s Chief Medical Examiner and fourteen board-certified Assistant Chief Medical Examiners are the core faculty who provide supervision and guidance to forensic pathology fellows. Second, it will build professional and technical skills for the forensic pathology fellow through multiple training and education opportunities. Funding will provide wide exposure to a variety of professional meetings and training events whereby the forensic pathology fellow can meet colleagues in the field, understand critical issues and challenges for medical examiners and coroners, and add technical skills and understanding to complement the hands-on work they are doing at the OCME.