The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved an innovative plan to recruit and retain more forensic pathologists to serve as medical examiners in Maricopa County.
The loan repayment assistance program is believed to be the first of its kind in the country for a medical examiner’s or coroner’s office.
“There just aren’t many people who are trained and capable of doing this job, so it’s imperative that Maricopa County distinguish itself as an employer of choice for medical examiners,” said Chairman Denny Barney, District 1. “Today’s vote is one step in what I hope is a committed long-term process of attracting the best medical examiners to help us solve crimes, spot trends, and provide answers to those grieving the loss of a loved one.”
The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner faces the same challenge that ME’s offices across the country are encountering: a shortage of forensic pathologists. The pool of qualified medical examiners is approximately 500. Maricopa County currently has 14 forensic pathologists, with funding for a total of 17 in fiscal year 2018. Meanwhile, the county’s caseload is growing (partially due to the opioid epidemic) and the agency is expected to handle over 5,800 cases this year.
“We took a hard look at what we could do differently and loan assistance was something that seemed to be a significant incentive for both current employees and potential recruits,” said Dr. Jeffrey Johnston, the county’s chief medical examiner.
The average forensic pathologist graduates medical school with close to $200,000 in student loan debt. Under the loan assistance program, qualifying medical examiners can receive up to $25,000 in loan repayment assistance annually, with a lifetime cap of $100,000.
“We want them to come to Maricopa County knowing, if they commit to us, we will invest in them,” said Dr. Johnston. “This program is a major incentive as we seek to fill open positions, reduce turnover, and ultimately, better serve the public.”
Qualifying medical examiners will be able to apply for the program immediately.