Medical Examiners Popular at Health Sciences and Nursing Day

November 02, 2012 / by / 0 Comment

By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau

Life isn’t all high-tech equipment, instant test results and nabbing the bad guy in 60 minutes or less at the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office.

That’s the stuff of “CSI” or “Bones” or other popular crime-scene TV shows.

But that doesn’t mean the job isn’t exciting, John X. Hu told a group of students Friday at Ethington Theatre during the 27th annual Health Sciences and Nursing Day, which drew nearly 100 high schools and 2,500 students to GCU.

“Our excitement comes in other ways,” said Hu, a medical examiner with Maricopa County. “Every case is unique, so that is a challenge on a different basis. What we do also brings closure to families, which is very important.”

Advanced technology has certainly brought crime-solving to a whole new level. Look no further than GCU’s new state-of-the-art DNA lab in the College of Arts and Sciences building and the popularity of its forensics program.

But it’s also simple things like a point-and-shoot camera and good old-fashioned paper bags.

Those are the things that Jessica Lyons, a Maricopa County medical investigator, showed students as she displayed the contents of the bag she carries to crime scenes.

Jessica Lyons, left, and John X. Hu shared their experiences in the medical examiner's field during Health Sciences and Nursing Day at GCU.

The paper bags are placed over the hands of any deceased person in which foul play might be suspected so that they can be tested later for gun residue.

“I know, not as exciting as CSI,” Lyons said. “Our focus is the body and what the body is telling us and what we see at the scene that tells us things about the body.”

Hu said every corpse tells a story.

“Speaking for the dead is very important to me,” he said. “In a courtroom, the defendant has a lot of people speaking for them. They have rights as a defendant. But only a medical examiner can speak for the dead.”

A group of six students from Greenway, Moon Valley and Sunnyslope high schools who attend the same class at Moon Valley said that is part of what drew them to Friday’s seminar.

“In our class, they set up a scene for us with dead bodies and we had to figure out how they died,” said Sandra Salazar, a Greenway student. “And the theater kids came out and dressed up and helped out. It was pretty cool. Some acted as family members and they were crying and we couldn’t get any information out of them. So we just had to look at the body and figure it out for ourselves.”

Some of the high school students were surprised that becoming a medical examiner can require 13-15 years of schooling — undergraduate studies, medical school, a pathology residency and a forensic fellowship. But Lyons told students they can become medical investigators with only a bachelor’s degree or sometimes even an associate’s degree.

“It really varies,” Lyons said, “but we try to hire people with some sort of background in the medical field.”

Asked by a student how much she made in her profession, Lyons laughed and said, “Forensics is not the highest-paid field. I don’t do it for the money.

“When you choose a profession, though, no matter what type of field you want to go into, make sure you do something you enjoy. I’m happy with what I’m doing. … I have a new mystery all day long. I can go from a homicide to a suicide to something that I have no clue what it is.”

Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or bob.romantic@gcu.edu.


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