US faces medical examiner shortage

The U.S. does not have enough physicians for the living or the dead.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the National Commission on Forensic Science says with about 500 practicing board-certified pathologists, the country has less than half the medical examiners it requires.

In some cases, this means some autopsies are not performed by forensic pathologists, according to the report. In others, it means bodies must be transported to other states, which can be expensive and time-consuming when an unembalmed body is deteriorating. It also backlogs court cases and insurance claims. In Massachusetts, for example, the medical examiner's office could not address more than 40 percent of its autopsy reports in 2014, according to the report.

Like other physician shortages, the average age of most medical examiners is climbing. It currently rests at 55, meaning a large portion of the workforce is roughly a decade away from retirement. However, unlike many other physician shortages, there is not a shortage of spots in training programs.

With student loans in tow, many pathologists are not attracted to the field's low pay. At hospitals, a pathologist can make an average of $355,000 a year, compared to an average $185,000 for medical examiners, according to the report.

The National Commission on Forensic Science was born in 2013 to bolster forensic medicine and address some of these issues by helping raise salaries, forgiving student loans and exposing medical students to the field, according to the report. The commission approved recommendations to address these issues at the end of the summer, according to the report.


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