Forensic Medicine Students Engage in Crime Scene Investigation Digging
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Forensic Medicine Students Unearth Lessons Outside the Classroom


April 25, 2023


Students in the Masters in Forensic Medicine program traded in their pen and paper for shovels and sifters on Saturday, April 22, 2023, as they unearthed mock graves as part of their experiential training in identifying and unearthing clandestine burial sites—and making sure those possible crime scenes are properly secured.

During the two-hour event, students walked through each phase of the unearthing process beginning with securing crime scenes and then carefully digging out each grave without damaging evidence. As they dug deeper, they found plastic skeletons which helped them identify either a victim or perpetrator.

“It was really interesting because every single grave had different scenarios on how the person was buried,” shared Ciara Miller (MS/FM '24). “Some people were fully clothed, some weren't, and some were wearing different pieces. I think that's very important as far as being able to have the full experience of what you could actually experience in real life.”

For other students, the opportunity to put lessons from the classroom into practice made for an exciting day. “It's kind of a culmination of a lot of the stuff that we've been learning,” said Owen Doster (MS/BioMed '23). “This is a functional use of our knowledge and I really had a lot of fun.”

The energy continued throughout the afternoon as students were able to ask questions and learn invaluable lessons from experts in the field. “The first time is always the hardest for a lot of things, and so for this, it's kind of getting your toes wet and getting some experience when you have five or six people in law enforcement that have been doing this for twenty or thirty years that know what they're doing,” said Doster.

PCOM student with brush sifts dirt away from a plastic skull in a mock crime scene grave siteUtilizing the expertise of their facilitators, each student was able to take a turn sifting through the evidence in order to see the full picture of their scenario. “The ability we have to put on a hands-on learning opportunity like this, close to the college, and to have access to seasoned instructors is an important part of our program,” said Gregory McDonald, DO, dean of the School of Health Sciences and chair of the Department of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. “It's a time to learn and potentially make mistakes in a controlled teaching environment instead of at a crime scene, where every movement matters.”

Executing a complex dig like this on campus helps set the tone for the students' future careers. “For the people that are trying to pursue a career in pathology, forensics, or even law enforcement… it's their first experience with something like that,” explained Doster. “The knowledge, the practice, and having people around us as a support system made it worth our while”.

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    For the past 125 years, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM, a private, not-for-profit accredited institution of higher education, operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, educational psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, and school psychology. The college also offers graduate degrees in applied behavior analysis, applied positive psychology, biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, medical laboratory science, mental health counseling, physician assistant studies, and school psychology. PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 215-871-6100.

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