Forensic Imaging Technologist: Dream Job?

Nancy Adams BS, RT(R)

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!

A-O Dislocation

Evidence of child abuse

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.

24 thoughts on “Forensic Imaging Technologist: Dream Job?

  1. It’s great to see this blog..Nancy you already know my response forensic imaging is a new field that is up and coming that’s going to allow as us techs to grow and be apart of a whole lot more than what a hospital environment can give us.

  2. Great article Nancy, please keep me updated on your seminar titled ‘The many facets of Forensic Imaging’. I’ve worked in x-ray and mammography for 17 yrs., recently lost my job and am looking for something new and old and familiar at the same time. Before attending x-ray school, I worked part time night shift in the ER, one aspect of my job, that they trained me was to clean and wrap the freshly deceased for identification for family members. So forensics has always interested me, I went through 2 rotations at the county morgue, so I find this really interesting and would like to see if I can persue my next radiology career in this new field. Here is my email address, please keep updated and thanks, Lane

    • Thanks, Lane. If you go to http://www.mtmi.net, and check seminars for technologists, you will find the schedule for the seminar. The 2013 schedule should be out by the end of the year. Also friend RadForensics on facebook. We are planning a national forensic conference for next year, and the information will be available there. Keep in touch!

      • Nancy, I too am a Xray/MRI Technologist who has always been very interested in working in Forensics. When joining the Seminar will there be any information on how I and others can work in this field? I have noticed most articles state that Forensic sites have unqualified people doing such exams. With all the experienced techs out there who would Love to do this type of work I am surprised.

      • I am x ray technologist working on ortopedic department, on x-ray, CT, MRI , C-ARM, and I am interesting in forensic imagin. In my contry there is forensic department but there is no forensic x-ray diagnostic. I would like to continue my education on this field forensic imaging. Can you give me some instructions pls. I am interesting in Msc study.

        • Haris, where do you live? Perhaps you can give me a little more information about the forensic center you mentioned. Did you mean that they have no imaging equipment at all?
          Thanks, Nancy

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  4. I really enjoyed your article Nancy, I have been a radiographer/mammographer for about 7 years and I am really interested in pursuing the forensic side of radiology. I am planning on attending your seminar ‘The many facets of Forensic Imaging’ in Toledo OH in September. I was wondering if you could tell me what training/certifications I would need to get started in this field? I would appreciate any advice you may have for me! Thanks, Amy

    • Hello, Amy,

      I look forward to meeting you in September. Although there are no certifications available at this time in forensic imaging, I feel sure it won’t be long before we see some type of advanced certification in the field. If I were you, at this point, I would probably get CT certification and specialize in 3-D recons, as that appears to be the preferred imaging technique in forensics (along with traditional radiographic imaging).

      Since the biggest issue we as RTs face right now is the fact that most ME offices simply cannot afford to hire an RT fulltime,I would also consider taking coursework in criminal justice or criminology to make myself more marketable. Another trend I am beginning to see are RTs going ahead and getting degrees in anthropology to complement radiology. In closing, something you can do right now to help you is approach your local ME office and see what might be available. You might be able to do some part time work and start getting experience. Even volunteer on your own time to help out. Show them the advantages of having an RT do their imaging! And I want an update in September!

      Nancy

  5. Nancy,
    My name is Elizabeth Warren. I am in my second year of a Medical Radiologic Technology program at a junior college in Mississippi. I have been extremely interested in being involved in forensic radiography since before I started the program. I was wondering if there is anyway that you could e-mail me and possibly help to guide me in the right direction as to what I could do to obtain a job as a forensic imaging tech. I would greatly appreciate it!
    –Elizabeth
    e-mail: Elizabeth_coolkidd@yahoo.com

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  7. Liz, contact Jerry Conlogue orTania Grgurich at Quinnipiac University. Both teach in the allied health division and are active in forensics. They should be able to help you. Good luck!

    • My name is Luke Hawkins. I have been an x-Ray/nuc med tech for 10 years now. I live in Idaho Falls idaho.. I’m not sure we have any forensics in our area. We do have an FBI crime lab in Pocatello which is 50 miles south. Can you send me any info that can help me get plugged into forensics in my area? Thanks

      • Hello, Luke,

        My recommendation would be to contact your local coroner and find out how things work in your state. I know Idaho is very rural, and often in that situation, all autopsies may be sent to one location. Then contact the facility that performs the autopsies and explain your interest and the fact that you are a registered radiographer. You may have to volunteer on your own time at first, or perhaps work out some type of call arrangement. Most morgue facilities do not have the funding to be able to hire an RT fulltime, so also ask about the possibility of cross-training. You might also look into taking some forensic courses, perhaps in criminalistics or criminal justice.

        Best wishes, Nancy

  8. Hello Nancy,
    After reading your article, I am extremely interested in learning more about forensic radiology. I’m currently a radiologic technologist student in Philadelphia, PA. Is there anyway that maybe you could e-mail me so I could get your advice on which would be the best way to proceed? Thanks!
    E-mail: Heiczinger.S@aol.com

  9. Thank you Nancy for giving me a better understanding of wanting to go into Forensic Radiology. I have one question where do you begin to look or apply to this positions? I have searched my city and nothing comes up under actual jobs? Do you have to look into homicide, or government?

    • Hi, Gina,

      Unfortunately, fulltime imaging positions in forensics are few and far between. We are starting to see forensic imaging centers being developed, and they do have some fulltime positions, but these are only in a few major cities. I recommend getting in touch with your medical examiner in your area and see what they may have. If necessary, volunteer to come in on your own to get experience and to let them see the advantages of having an RT do their images. Also be willing to train in other forensic areas to make your self more marketable. Hope this helps.

      Nancy

  10. Hi Nancy,
    I am currently applying for radiology schools and am very interested in the forensic side of radiology! Could you also please email me so I have your contact information as well? Thanks again!
    E-mail: morganuhlman@gmail.com

  11. Hi Nancy,am Nwokedi Chinedu a registered degree holder in medical radiographer in Nigeria[west africa].Having gone through your written work in forensic radiography I felt much more motivated.I really wish to do my masters in forensic radiography,please Nancy help me with information on what to do to gain Msc admission where you are.+2348038714075,amerykedi@yahoo.com or ckedidalegacy@gmail.com

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