With ever-popular television shows such as Forensic Files, CSI, Cold Case and others, forensics has become a hot topic – not only with the public at large, but also in the radiology industry. Forensic Radiology is a specialized area of medical imaging using radiological techniques to assist physicians, pathologists and anthropologists in matters related to the law such as determining cause of death or identifying remains.
Imaging can play a significant role in forensic investigations.
Conventional autopsies are invasive, whereas x-rays do not require cutting the body apart. Therefore, it is especially useful for certain religions that do not allow post mortem mutilation. By using an x-ray to examine certain body parts, many times the autopsy can be restricted to a certain area.
Other imaging techniques are becoming more widely used in forensics as well, and digital imaging provides many advantages. Perhaps one of the fastest-growing new techniques being used is the virtual autopsy, which uses a combination of light and 3D CT to reconstruct remains. Another area of forensics beginning to use the 3D capability of imaging is facial reconstruction, traditionally done using clay. Now, researchers are using 3D CT technology to develop the tools to do facial reconstructions digitally. This process can lead to virtual facial images to help identify a missing person, or a severely burned or decomposed body.
With over 40 years experience as an RT, I have seen a growing need for experienced technologists specializing in forensics. My interest and involvement in forensic imaging began early in my education. As a student, I was sent to the morgue to observe autopsies and perform imaging. Working with the chief pathologist sparked my interest in forensics. I started teaching full time in a radiology tech program in 1981, but continued to be involved in forensics and after joining the DMORT team I started to get more involved in the forensic aspect.
Upon my retirement as the clinical coordinator for radiologic sciences at ItawambaCommunity College in Fulton, MS, I have continued to work in forensics as the team leader of the Region 4 Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT).
One of my most memorable and rewarding experiences was the work that I did after Hurricane Katrina. I worked side-by-side with the pathologists and anthropologists to compare x-rays of body parts to prior x-rays to successfully identify remains of missing persons. This allowed many families to bring closure for a lost loved one during this devastating tragedy.
I also supported the efforts to identify remains from cemetery disruptions, some that dated back to the 1800’s. Our goal was to identify as many remains as possible and return them to the original grave site.
As devastating and destructive as Hurricane Katrina was, the recovery efforts helped to raise the awareness of the importance of forensic imaging. As Dr. Cotton Howell, Region 4 DMORT Commanding Officer said;
“The morgue is not operational until x-ray is operational.”
Seeing images like the ones below is just part of a day in the life of a Forensic Imaging Technologist!
Interested in learning more about forensic imaging as a career path? This fall I’ll be hosting seminars with the Medical Technology Management Institute. The seminar is titled The Many Facets of Forensic Imaging and qualifies for 8 hours ARRT Category A Credit.
Do you think Forensic Imaging is a dream job, or will you stick to the hospital’s X-ray room?
Nancy was the first technologist to be accepted for membership in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and serves as the US liaison for the International Association of Forensic Radiographers.