New report confirms critical shortage of forensic pathologists in US

A draft report from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice and the Scientific Working Group for Medicolegal Death Investigation has recently been released which confirms there is a critical shortage of forensic pathologists in the United States.  The report also gives recommendations on how to combat the problem.

Obviously forensic pathologists perform a vital role in society, and an insufficient number of competent practitioners can literally allow people to get away with murder.

Here are some of the findings I found to be most interesting:

  • There are only 37 ACGME-accredited forensic pathology training programs in the US
  • Most medical schools have little or no exposure to forensic pathology in the medical school curriculum
  • A recent survey showed that among the 37 training programs in 55 the United States, there were a total of 78 approved positions, but only 53 were funded and 42 were filled
  • Since 1959, there have been slightly less than 2000 people who have trained in forensic pathology, and a total of about 1400 board certified forensic pathologists have been produced in the 52 years since 1959
  • There are an estimated 500 full-time forensic pathologists in the United States, and projections suggest that 1000 are needed to provide adequate coverage in the United States
  • Only two-thirds of forensic pathology fellowship graduates practice forensic pathology full time, and 21% end up not practicing forensic pathology at all
  • Forensic pathologist salaries for those who are not chiefs of offices usually range between 100K and 200K per year, with few Chiefs making more than 200K per year
  • The national autopsy rate is now miserably low at about 8.5%, with only about 4.3% of disease-caused deaths undergoing autopsy
And a few of their recommendations:
  • The specialty of forensic pathology and death investigation needs to be made more visible in medical school (as does exposure to general pathology) and pathology residency curricula
  • The exposure to autopsy, forensic pathology, and death investigation needs to be improved and made more positive in pathology residency programs, and non-forensic pathology faculty need to be more supportive of forensic pathology as a legitimate medical and academic discipline
  • Financial incentives need to be provided to attract medical students and pathology residents into the field of forensic pathology
  • The salaries of forensic pathologists need to be made competitive with other medical specialties requiring similar years of training
  • Forensic pathology training programs need to be increased in number along with an increase in funded forensic pathology fellowship positions
  • Forensic pathology training programs need to have more formal relationships with medical schools and pathology departments
The full draft report can be read here.

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