Roger Mitchell Jr., a board certified pathologist at the New Jersey Medical Examiner Service, spoke on campus Monday about the roles and duties of a medical examiner.
Mitchell started his presentation by telling the audience that they should think outside the box because forensic science can be used in any discipline. Then he explained what the roles of a medical examiner are.
He said that medical examiners investigate the cause and manner of death, support law enforcement and public health-related initiatives and respond to medical threats.
Mitchell talked about the differences between a coroner and a medical examiner because most people think they are the same. The difference is that the coroner is an elected official and does not have training or a medical degree, while the medical examiner is appointed and has a degree, he said.
“If there are any coroners in the audience, I am sorry you are one,” Mitchell joked.
When it comes to answer the question of why someone died there are five different categories that may classify the manner of death. These are natural, accidental, homicide, suicide and undetermined. Mitchell said that in New Jersey, where he currently works, they deal mostly with natural deaths and accidental deaths.
To explain how public health information works, he asked the audience if they knew that smoking is bad for their health. Most people in the audience said “yes” and then Mitchell said that they know that because public health information has done a good job at explaining that to them. But when it comes to violence, an area that still needs work, most people don’t receive prevention messages, he said.
“Youth violence is a health issue. Communities should look for help from public health,” he said.
Attendee Hallie Altshuler (graduate-forensic science) said the lecture was very interesting because she wasn’t familiar with the roles of a medical examiner. She also was surprised about the way medical examiners reach out to communities about adolescent deaths.
To see how medical examiners work, Mitchell gave examples of three real cases in which the medical examiner had to determine the cause of death and also give support to their families.
The first case was about a teenager that apparently committed suicide but they had to see very closely if the person’s wounds determined that.
“You can not assume that he committed suicide. In 60 percent of all suicides there are no notes, so you have to gather all the information to prove it was an actual suicide,” he said. “The public health program needs to know why people commit suicide.”
The second case was a violent death, and they also determined the murder weapon by doing some tests and procedures. He also said that medical examiners try to prevent homicides and analyze why some people from certain races are killed more often than others.
The third case was about a teenager who died because of heroin usage. Mitchell said that he told the teenager’s family that he would use that case to educate people about not consuming drugs.
“The majority of drug deaths are mixed drugs related,” he said.
Two common drugs used in the New Jersey area are heroin and oxycodone, but people use only one of those because they have the same effects, Mitchell said.
Kelsey Harman (freshman-forensic science) said that she enjoyed the presentation because she was able to see the medical examiners point on forensic science and also an in-depth view of what they do.