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Strengthening the Medical Examiner-Coroner System Program

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The medicolegal death investigation (MDI) workforce is experiencing a national shortage of practicing board-certified forensic pathologists. Furthermore, there is variability in the practice of death investigation across the United States, resulting in an inconsistent provision of MDI services. This program was initiated in 2017 to help address MDI workforce needs to increase the number of practicing board-certified forensic pathologists, as well as to support medical examiner-coroner (ME/C) offices’ needs to implement and follow quality standards and performance criteria in an effort to provide consistent and equitable application of death investigation services.

The goals of this program are the following:

  1. Increase the supply of qualified forensic pathology practitioners.
  2. Strengthen the quality and consistency of ME/C services.

In collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the Forensics Training and Technical Assistance (Forensics TTA) Program, led by RTI International, offers a team of subject matter experts who provide expertise and assistance to grantees in support of BJA’s overall mission to strengthen America’s criminal justice system. For more information on the ME/C program, as well as the services the Forensics TTA program offers, please visit the Forensics TTA Program website.

Visit the Forensic Sciences page for additional resources and to learn more about how BJA supports this topical area.

Why This Matters

This program helps address the extreme shortage of board-certified forensic pathologists in the United States, as underscored in the 2019 Report to Congress: Needs Assessment of Forensic Laboratories and Medical Examiner/Coroner Offices on strengthening forensic science in the United States. It also provides ME/C offices with the resources to become accredited and maintain that accreditation. Accreditation provides an independent measure of quality assurance by assessing that an office maintains written policies and procedures and adequate staff, equipment, training, and suitable physical facilities to produce a forensically documented, accurate, and credible death investigation product. Further, this program helps to address the increasing workloads experienced at ME/C offices, which have been exacerbated by the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grantee Spotlight and Program Highlights

The 2023 Forensic Pathology Match Program Update

Of the 46 U.S. accredited forensic pathology fellowship programs (78 total positions), 40 programs participated in the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), offering a total of 70 positions. The Match was held on May 3, 2023, for positions starting in July 2024. There were 47 match applicants and all but two applicants matched (i.e., 95.7% applicants matched). 50% of the forensic pathology programs in the Match filled, and 64% of of the forensic pathologist (FP) positions filled. The application numbers are similar to recent years if you consider that a handful of positions this year were available outside of the match. The data indicates there is not a shortage of FP fellowship positions but rather a shortage of applicants. A survey of the fellow applicants (55% response rate) was conducted by NAME. This survey found that four of five residents matched with their first choice and 88% were “definitely” satisfied with their match outcome. The next FP match date is scheduled for May 1, 2024, for July 2025 positions.

For more information on the NAME NRMP, visit the NAME webpage.

New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (NY OCME)

NY OCME serves a population of approximately 8.5 million people in an area of 300 square miles that encompasses the city’s five boroughs. The office has more than 30 full-time forensic pathologists and has trained an average of 4 forensic pathology fellows every year for more than 30 years. A recent grant award from the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Strengthening Medical Examiners/Coroners Program has allowed the NYC OCME to accommodate up to 6 forensic pathology fellows each year.

The NYC OCME’s reputation within the forensic pathology community as a consistently strong training program enables it to draw applicants from around the country and the world. Locally, the NYC OCME partners with 7 regional medical schools and more than 10 regional pathology residency programs to educate a large pool of future doctors and pathologists about the unique intersection of science and medicine in forensic pathology. A limited number of summer internships hosted by the NYC OCME encourages college students to consider careers in the forensic sciences, and some of these interns even return as forensic pathology fellows years later after completing college, medical school, and a pathology residency.

Forensic pathology fellows perform over 200 autopsies of various complexity, attend daily conferences with senior medical examiners to discuss cases with a strong emphasis on the principles behind the practice of forensic pathology, teach students and residents, and gain experience testifying in grand juries and criminal trials. Over the last 30 years, the NYC OCME’s forensic pathology training program has successfully graduated more than 100 forensic pathologists, most of whom have continued to practice forensic pathology full-time in and beyond New York City.

Program Accomplishments

Please visit the Forensics TTA Program website for program accomplishments and respective performance metrics.

Date Modified: October 16, 2023
Date Created: September 9, 2020