U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Just Science Podcast: Medicolegal Death Investigation: Just Being Vocal about Vicarious Trauma

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2018
2 pages

This first episode of the medicolegal death investigation special release season of the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) Just Science podcast series is an interview with Kelly Keyes, the supervising coroner of Orange County , CA, who provides an overview of the coroner and medical examiner professions, as well as key topics being discussed in these fields.


The interview with Ms. Keyes is co-hosted by Dr. John Morgan of the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) and Dr. Jeri Ropero-Miller, a forensic toxicologist. After discussing Ms. Keyes educational and vocational background, issues related to her work are discussed. One issue addressed is the nature of vicarious trauma among staff members of coroner and medical examiner offices. Vicarious trauma refers to an adverse emotional and mental state that occurs when staff members regularly interact with family members of deceased persons whose deaths are being investigated. The impact of the trauma being experienced by the decedent's family can have adverse mental effects on staff members who interact with them. Ways in which Keyes' office has dealt with such vicarious trauma are discussed. Another issue addressed in the interview is the difference between coroners and medical examiners in terms of how they obtain their professional positions, their qualifications, and the nature of their work. Other subjects considered in the interview are the management of cases in which the decedent is unidentified and how a database of persons reported missing could help in such cases; the importance of examining all the circumstances of a case before determining cause of death; and staffing issues related to qualifications, training, and turnover in medical examiner offices. Ms. Keyes also discusses some memorable cases in which she has been involved and rewarding experiences of her work.

Date Published: October 1, 2018