Forensic medicine is a rare speciality that attracts very few dedicated doctors.
All it requires to understand what forensic medicine is to watch people waiting outside a hospital morgue. There will be policemen, sometimes magistrates and curious onlookers. Only a few realise the hard work that a police surgeon is delegated.
Unlike other fields of medicine, forensic medicine is one where the doctor or surgeon never comes across a living person.
They are relegated to the rear end of the hospital, and they are constantly trying to find clues by examining the cadaver to learn the cause of death. This is what makes forensic medicine one of those rare specialities that attract very few students.
Working with police
Those who have entered the field either by choice or because of interest and have opted to work for the government have earned the respect of the police and the judiciary by working with them in unravelling mysteries and ensuring justice to the wronged person.
Senior forensic medicine experts routinely conduct classes for the police and the judiciary. The experts share their observations with undergraduate medical students, teaching them about medical ethics and the nuances of treating a patient.
Yet, there was a time in Tamil Nadu when MBBS graduates shunned the speciality since it was not as lucrative as surgery or other super specialities. For several years in a row there were no takers for the MD in Forensic Medicine course.
An MD in Forensic Medicine takes three years to complete. At present, there are nine students undergoing the course at the Madras Medical College, an institution which has the distinction of having women as the head of the Institute of Forensic Medicine.
On an average, every southern state performs around 10,000 to 15,000 autopsies. Any case of unnatural death requires an autopsy. “In future the number of accidents may come down but they will continue to happen and we need surgeons to perform autopsies,” says Y.P. Girish Chandra, head, Forensic Medicine, M.S. Ramaiah Medical College, Bangalore.
While Karnataka has given permission to private medical colleges to perform autopsies, paving way for developing the speciality, the other three southern states — Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala face a huge shortage of forensic medicine experts, he adds.
In fact, graduates from private medical colleges in Karnataka have found jobs in these states but fears that once vacancies get filled up there will be very few takers for the course.
A forensic medicine expert’s meticulous documentation of injuries on the cadaver can help overturn a case, he says.
If the speciality has to develop then the Medical Council of India must take a keen interest in the speciality, Dr. Girish Chandra avers.
Although technically anyone with an MBBS degree can perform an autopsy, a qualified surgeon’s skill would enhance the quality of work, according to him.
A final year MD student at a government medical college in Chennai who took up forensic medicine out of interest says:
“I know I will rarely come across living human beings in my profession. I chose this field because I wanted to do a master’s programme and teach undergraduate students. I want to remain in government service and would like to retire from it. At present the government does not permit autopsies in private medical colleges but there is no guarantee that the government would not change its mind. I am willing to give myself that chance.”