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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
cates that the average medical school graduate in 2006 finished with debt in excess of $130,571 (including premedical school borrowing), with 72 percent having a debt of at least $100,000.49 Interested pathology residents are less likely to elect to practice forensic pathology as a career if they are already burdened by debt load, and a program of loan forgiveness for years of service in a medical examiner system would be a major enticement to students who are considering a career in pathology. The shortage of qualified forensic pathologists required to staff aspiring medical examiner systems constitutes a major challenge not only for offices that are currently seeking staff, but for the future as well.
STANDARDS AND ACCREDITATION FORDEATH INVESTIGATION SYSTEMS
Currently, the standard for quality in death investigation for medical examiner offices is accreditation by NAME. Accreditation attests that an office has a functional governing code, adequate staff, equipment, training, and a suitable physical facility and produces a forensically documented accurate, credible death investigation product. Of all ME/C systems nationally, only 54 are accredited by NAME. The NAME accreditation checklist is available online and describes the requirements for accreditation.50 Accreditation is for a period of five years. NAME also offers an individualized assessment program to enable jurisdictions to identify what they need to meet accreditation standards. Impediments to developing systems that meet accreditation requirements include the following:
Most coroner systems cannot qualify for accreditation because of problems related to size, insufficient staff and equipment, and insufficiently trained personnel, which inhibit their ability to perform a competent physical examination, make and/or exclude medical diagnoses on dead bodies, and make determinations of the cause and manner of death. The historic role of the coroner is insufficient to accurately perform the medicolegal and public health functions related to sudden, unexpected, or violent death.
Many medical examiner systems are constrained by budget, lack of staff, lack of equipment, and insufficient facilities and cannot meet NAME standards.
The accreditation process requires considerable staff work, including written policies and procedures.