Two medical students in the forensic medicine preceptorship program and a forensic pathology Fellow at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) presented their research through poster presentations at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) Annual Scientific Meeting in Seattle last month.
The Annual Meeting of the AAFS is the premier gathering of professionals and academics involved in the forensic sciences.
“It is an invaluable experience for medical students as it gives them exposure to current issues and research trends in forensic pathology,” said Benjamin Figura, PhD, D-ABFA, forensic anthropologist and director of the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center (WTRFC). “It also demonstrates the quality of education and research at UTHSC and the benefits of our affiliation with the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center. Our hope is that some of these students will choose forensic pathology as a career path or that aspiring pathologists will choose UTHSC for their education.”
Second-year medical student Bailey Lyttle’s presentation topic was “Growth Chart Review in Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID).” The goal was to evaluate the correlation between low birthweight and SUID while exploring whether or not infant size normalizes over time in infants affected by SUID. “I chose this project because Memphis has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the United States, and I am interested in what sort of interventions could be put in place to bring Memphis’s infant mortality rate closer to the national average,” she said.
When asked about the forensic medicine preceptorship, Lyttle said, “What was most valuable to me was the hands-on learning experience in a realm of medicine that we don’t explore much in our first two years of class. I also felt like the program gave me a lot of context for disease processes that I later encountered in my coursework, solidifying the importance of what we learn in the classroom before beginning our clinical rotations.”
The topic of second- year medical student Braden Taylor’s presentation was “An 11-Year Review of Deaths While in an Inpatient Rehabilitation or Counseling Center at the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center.” It involved drug- and alcohol-related deaths that occurred at inpatient rehabilitation centers here in Memphis over the past 11 years. “My mentor, Dr. Erica Curry, a forensic pathologist at WTRFC, and I wanted to review these deaths in the hopes of helping both rehabilitation centers and medical examiners recognize common health problems, natural disease, and mental states that accompany addiction,” Taylor said. “We collected information regarding each individual’s gender, race, age, manner and cause of death, specific addiction, and mental status to achieve this goal. It was our hope that this information could help rehabilitation centers in implementing programs to better manage the health problems seen in the setting of addiction.”
Taylor said the preceptorship at WTRFC was “nothing short of awesome.” I was able to gain a lot of first-hand experience, both in the autopsy suite and in the field at death scenes, over the course of the summer,” he said. “This first-hand experience reinforced a lot of the basic anatomy and pathology we learn during the first year of medical school. In addition, the program did an excellent job in exposing me to the field of forensic pathology, a field which tends to fly under the medical student radar.
Katrina Van Pelt, MD, has been a forensic pathology fellow at UTHSC/WTRFC since July 2017. She said the most enjoyable aspect of her fellowship experience has been the variety in cases and gaining experience with great teachers. Her presentation topic, “A Comparison of Peak Sound Levels of Non-Contact and Contact Gunshots into a Gelatin Block,” is a yearlong retrospective review of suicidal contact gunshot wounds at the WTRFC.
Her poster showed 50 cases examined for either autopsy or external examination. Of those 50 cases, five included reported circumstances of an on-scene individual, other than the decedent, who reported that they did not hear the lethal gunshot auditory report. “The learning objective of this study is to ascertain any difference between peak sound levels of contact and non-contact gunshots,” Dr. Van Pelt said. “The hypothesis is contact gunshots into gelatin block will have lower peak decibel levels than non-contact gunshots into gelatin block. The hypothesis is founded on the proposition that expanding gases will expand inside the gelatin block instead of outside the gelatin block resulting in a lower peak decibel level. If the hypothesis is supported, it may explain why one tenth of the suicidal gunshot cases where an auditory observer was present did not hear the lethal gunshot.”
About the Forensic Pathology Fellowship and Preceptorship Program
UTHSC and WTRFC recently began a Forensic Pathology fellowship in which pathologists will receive training in forensic pathology leading to board eligibility in that medical specialty. There is also a two-month preceptorship for two medical students during their summer break between the first and second years of medical school.