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Midshipmen Visit Chief Medical Examiner’s Office

Posted on: December 17, 2013 08:00 EST by LT Harry Qui

Recently, a group of midshipmen from the Naval Academy Chemistry Club visited the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland to learn about the office's fascinating history, core missions and how it differs from a coroner's office.

Bruce Goldfarb, assistant to the Chief Medical Examiner led the tour.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland, the first statewide medical examiner’s office in the nation, was established in 1939 at a time when coroners’ offices dominated. There are two major distinctions between them.  A medical examiner is appointed, therefore, expected to be nonpartisan, and a medical examiner requires formal training.

In the state of Maryland, a medical degree is required for medical examiners, which means they are experts on the subject matter. Currently, the chief medical examiner oversees two deputies and 11 assistant medical examiners, as well as several toxicologists, epidemiologists and forensic investigators.

The building where the Medical Examiner's Office resides was designed with the future in mind, allowing the office to expand with increases in population without reaching maximum capacity for several decades.

Since the medical examiner’s office is considered as a hospital, the building was designed as such. What sets it apart from many of its contemporaries is the ability to examine specimens with unknown and potentially hazardous pathogens.

After a brief introduction, the mids toured the Scarpetta House, named after a character in author Patricia Cornwell’s crime series. In this staging room, different crime scenes can be recreated allowing a more in-depth analysis of each case. In addition, the next generation of investigators can be trained using the staging room as well.

Next, the midshipmen were guided to the observation room where the vital organs and fluids of the deceased that are important to the investigation are collected. From there, the group was led to one of the biosafety level 2 examination rooms, where the deceased with questionable contaminants can be examined by the investigators safely. Afterwards, the midshipmen visited a museum of forensic science.

The museum contained a collection of artifacts from crime victims. The other side of the museum contains a collection of dioramas of recreated real crime scenes, created by Frances Glessner Lee. Lee was the daughter of a very successful businessman and she devoted part of her life to the advancement of forensic science. Each diorama was arranged exactly as reported, from the teapot sitting on the stove top to the automobile parked in the garage. Every item was painstakingly created to be as realistic as possible.

The midshipmen tried their hands in solving each case depicted in the diorama by following the clues. The attention to detail of the dioramas really resonated with the group.

The midshipmen who went on the tour are all interested in medical sciences and some aspire to join the Navy Medical Corps. The goal of the trip was to inspire and motivate the mids in their studies and provided them with insights that will help them in pursuing of their dream of becoming an officer in the Navy Medical Corps.

For midshipmen interested in a similar trip, there are plans for another one next semester. Be on the lookout for the event and experience what is like to be a medical examiner yourself.

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