Internships at the Coroner’s Office

Elizabeth Ortiz, MS, F-ABMDI

There is a new trend in education which allows students the ability to be completely submerged into their field of study. These “classrooms” provide more learning opportunities than just books. Take for example Amy Schreier, who is an Assistant Professor of biology at Regis University. She provides a three-week research program in the center of a rainforest. For biology students interested in this type of research, it can be a dream come true. Another opportunity to ensure the student can achieve their educational and professional goals is an internship. Regis University provides internships that can lead to a better understanding of their field of study. My office, Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office, accepts interns to assist with autopsies, respond to scenes and understand the ins and outs of a death investigation.

As an intern at my office, the student will learn how to assist the pathologist in an autopsy by learning how to remove the organs from the body. This also includes removing the brain, collecting blood, uring and vitreous. The intern will also learn how to collect evidence off the body and how to follow chain of command for those items deemed as evidence for the prosecution and conviction of a suspect. After the autopsy is completed, the intern will also learn how to prepare the deceased for his or her final destination.

Interns will also be allowed the opportunity to respond to scenes and learn what is necessary for a complete investigation. A complete investigation includes photographs of the scene, examination of the deceased, interview of the family and friends, and death notifications. Although a death investigation includes obtaining the information from the law enforcement agency investigating the death, as a death investigator you have to also obtain your own information and documentation. Our role is to identify what is not consistent with the death. Law enforcement is normally not just tasked with death investigations, but rather everything that is criminal. Some deaths might not appear to be criminal; therefore it is important the death investigator can confirm that the death is not a criminal act.

Finally, the intern will be allowed to write their own reports and update the data on the computer. All of this takes time and it is normally taught on a step-by-step basis since ultimately the death investigator’s signature will be attached to that investigation.

An internship at the coroner’s office will dispel the television show myths and provide a true sense of what a death investigation entails. They will experience the raw emotions of family members and friends, work hand in hand with law enforcement and crime scene investigators and finally, provide a service to the families of those who have lost their life.