This special release episode in the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) Just Science podcast series consists of interviews with Dr. Hope Smiley-McDonald and Connor Brooks, who discuss the development of a new survey of medical examiners and coroners.
Background information for the interviews indicates that the last Census of Medical Examiners and Coroners was conducted in 2004. The information provided by the Census was an important resource for budgeting and policymaking. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and RTI International are currently developing a tool that will capture key information on this medical field. Both Brooks and Smiley-McDonald have been involved in this process. They discuss both the logistics of developing the survey questionnaire and the rationale for including questions that provide information on significant issues relevant to the performance of medical examiners and coroners. Among the significant issues considered important for the survey is whether the number of forensic pathologists active in performing government-sponsored autopsies is adequate for the demand, particularly given overdose deaths due to the opioid epidemic. A related issue is the training received by coroners and medical examiners to perform toxicological examinations. Another issue being addressed in developing a new survey tool are whether the pay received by medical examiners and coroners is sufficient to compete with incomes forensic pathologists could receive in private practice. Other topics being considered for the survey are accreditation, the computerization of records, record archiving, equipment and procedures being used, the use of and authority to access various databases relevant to the work of forensic pathologists, and preparation and inclusion in training for mass disasters. The methodology being used for the development of the census tool includes consultation with practitioners regarding the content of and terminology used in the survey, as well as solicitation of comments on draft surveys.