Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $300,000)
The United States continues to experience a severe shortage of board-certified forensic pathologists as cases that are referred to offices around the country are rising at unprecedented levels. Currently, there are an estimated 500 board-certified forensic pathologists working compared to the recommended range of 1,100-1,200. This critical shortage may undermine the local, state, and federal criminal justice systems with the lack of forensic pathologists to perform examinations in a timely manner.
The Broward County Office of Medical Examiner & Trauma Services (BCOMETS) requests funding to train two full-time Forensic Pathology Fellows to help offset the critical shortage of forensic pathologists. BCOMETS is one of 25 medical examiner districts within Florida. The office investigates all violent, suspicious, unnatural and unattended deaths to determine cause and manner of death, which aids law enforcement investigations and unmasks trends that aid in public health and safety. BCOMETS continues to be overwhelmed with a significant increase in drug overdoses (up 49% from 2019), homicides (up 23% from 2019), and motor vehicle-related deaths (up 33% from 2019). Additionally, there continues to be emergence of new drugs such as xylazine (a veterinary tranquilizer) and the fentanyl analogs. Persons living in low income neighborhoods have been affected disproportionately with higher rates of drug related deaths and homicides. Broward County’s in-house forensic toxicology laboratory consistently ranks within the top three medical examiner districts in terms of annual workload.
The fellows will be provided a comprehensive educational experience at an ACGME and NAME accredited medical examiner office which includes an onsite toxicology laboratory. The forensic pathology program director and seven board-certified forensic pathologists will share their vast, and varied expertise through closely guided mentoring, thus, preparing the fellows to become competent and knowledgeable forensic pathologists. The fellows will have access to a board-certified Neuropathologist and a cardiac pathologist when a case warrants their expertise.
BCOMETS is one of the few medical examiner offices in the country that uses Lodox®, a full body imaging scanner, that helps triage cases before examinations. In addition to performing over 200 autopsies, the fellows will respond to death scenes, participate in crime scene investigations, courtroom/deposition testimonies, and monthly countywide trauma services meetings, opioid fatality review, domestic violence review, and child death review. The Medicolegal Death Investigation community will be enriched by the contributions of the fellows upon completion of this invaluable training experience.
BCOMETS worked to acquire a second fellowship position in order to continue decreasing the overall national shortage of forensic pathologists. This funding will continue to help increase BCOMETS visibility nationwide, which will enable us to attract top candidates and continue to produce qualified, highly trained forensic pathologists.