Two Kettering University students are gaining valuable pre-med experience working at the Genesee County morgue for their co-op.
Mia Jonascu ’18 and Carley Holmes ’19 are scribes at the county Medical Examiner’s Office where they assist with autopsies and the office’s information management system.
"This is a phenomenal opportunity for our pre-med students. The cases are very interesting and they are learning a lot of anatomy and physiology. They will be well prepared for future cadaver work,” said Dr. Stacy Seeley, Department Head of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Director of the Pre-Med Program at Kettering.
Dr. Brian Hunter, the Genesee County Medical Examiner, decided he wanted to hire a scribe after encountering Holmes at Hurley Medical Center, where Kettering pre-med students work as scribes. Holmes showed an interest in autopsy medicine.
“She immediately took to it and oriented me to what scribes do and how they could be beneficial,” he said.
He posted two positions for jobs taking notes and assisting with autopsies and entering data into the office’s new EPIC information management system. The students starting working with Hunter in late 2017.
Hunter wants scribes to gain a deeper understanding of anatomy and the disease process, along with how the medical examiner functions. Most medical students get little experience working with the ME’s role and how to create death certificates.
“This is light-years ahead of anything I was exposed to as an undergrad,” Hunter said.
Jonascu, an Applied Biology student, took the job to become more familiar with anatomy and physiology. Her goal is to become a physician assistant and work in trauma.
"It was a shock at first. It was difficult to get used to because we aren’t just creating notes, we’re creating final autopsy reports that go to lawyers and police officers,” she said. “It has to be very precise. We have to have attention to detail.”
Jonascu takes notes and performs external examinations on the bodies, such as checking the eyes, mouth and noting scars and tattoos. Working in the morgue isn’t something Jonascu thought she’d do, but now she loves it. She’s learned to look for three kidneys instead of two in a patient with a history of kidney transplants and how to recognize a stroke or a heart attack by looking at a dissected heart and brain.
Jonascu said she’s getting a well-rounded view of the medical field through the pre-med club at Kettering.
“I’m thankful for opportunity to have the experience and explore these different facets of medicine. Anywhere else, I probably wouldn’t be able to do that,” she said.
Holmes, a Biochemistry major, became interested in forensic pathology in middle school. Through her work at Hurley and the ME’s office, she compared different types of medicine and found she likes the forensic pathology specialty the most because of the pacing of the field and a general interest in the gross anatomy of the human body. She’s learned to recognize external clues to possible causes of death, such as facial/neck congestion (purple/red skin discoloration) indicative of heart attack or drug overdose.
“I like the stories,” she said. “The ME is the first person to find out what actually happened."
The co-op also helped with Holmes’ applications to medical school. Her extensive experience working at the hospital and morgue boosted her application.
“In our county, we give students the opportunity to experience autopsy and morgue environment far earlier than any other county,” Hunter said. “Kettering students are getting more first-hand exposure to understanding disease process in the most realistic sense. I don’t know of any other medical examiner in state of Michigan that uses scribes.”