A fellowship announced last week will offer one physician a year's worth of experience working with forensic pathologists at the Arkansas state Crime Laboratory and coroners across the state, increasing the fellow's knowledge of the field and hopefully keeping that expertise in the Natural State, officials said.
Starting July 1, 2024, the person accepted to the fellowship offered by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Crime Lab will get the chance to conduct a high volume of autopsies, employing the variety of advanced forensic tools available to the lab and working with coroners in all 75 counties, Dr. Theodore Brown, Arkansas' chief medical examiner and an associate professor of pathology at UAMS, said in a news release.
Brown is the director of the fellowship program, which is open to physicians who have completed a residency program in anatomic or anatomic and clinical pathology.
What the fellow will come to learn through the program, Brown said in an interview Thursday, is that forensic pathologists' work in the Crime Lab is not just about determining how Arkansans have died, but why they have died. The answer to the second question enables them to work with other doctors, social workers and public health officials to help prevent future deaths.
For example, with drug overdose deaths in the state on the rise, pathologists have been on the front line of identifying the rise of fentanyl, Brown said.
But Arkansas offers a wide variety of scenarios beyond substance abuse that keep pathologists on their toes. Drownings occur in the state's lakes and rivers, extreme temperatures cause deaths, and farming accidents are common in the state's rural regions, Brown said. And all of that is on top of violent crime deaths.
For Brown, the whole career is about serving the people of the state, he said, and a successful candidate will most likely share those values.
"The idea of serving others, that is the foundation of the fellowship program we've created," Brown said.
Brown also hopes that the program will encourage pathologists to stay in the state and work.
The fellowship program is one of about 50 of its kind in the nation, Brown said, but many of those programs aren't filled. This is at least partially because there aren't as many students going into the field of forensic pathology as there once were, he said.
"Nationally, there is a critical shortage of forensic pathologists that has been exacerbated by the opioid crisis and covid-19," Brown said.
The Crime Lab, Brown said, has avoided the worst consequences of the shortage.
"We are fortunate. Not all medical examiner's offices are fully staffed," he said.
While the reasons for the shortage still aren't entirely clear, Brown said, he thinks that the fellowship might help address the problem. In addition to gaining experience working at the Crime Lab, the fellow will have the opportunity to teach medical students and residents.
Studies have shown that physicians tend to practice medicine in the state where they train, he said.
The release notes that the lab is expected to triple in size and move from Little Rock to Camp Robinson in North Little Rock by 2027, "providing space for more experts in the field" as well as equipment. The state Legislature this year set aside $200 million for the project.
There is currently no application deadline for the fellowship, the news release states.