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Meet the new Utah State Medical Examiner

Posted at 7:35 AM, Jun 12, 2024

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — After more than a dozen years Utah is getting a new State Medical Examiner, and FOX 13 sat down with the incoming M.E. to find out what popular TV shows get wrong about the job and what makes her work so vital.

“A post-mortem examination, is a very physically demanding job,” explained Dr. Deirdre Amaro. “To me [it’s] like manual labor. Then I have to sit down and think about everything I've seen, all the records I've read. I have to interpret the toxicology results. I have to put it all together to try to come up with the most reasonable cause of death, and that's really cool.”

For the last year of collected data, nearly 35% of the deaths in Utah were investigated by the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner. That is nearly 8,000 investigations.

Dr. Amaro, who recently moved to Utah from Missouri, is tasked with overseeing the staff of about 50 as they handle the deaths deemed suspicious, sudden, unexpected, violent, traumatic or unattended by a physician.

Despite decades of service, Dr. Amaro says she will always be a student of medicine.

“Every cause of death determination is a medical diagnosis, and every medical diagnosis is an educated guess, which is part of why we have to spend all our lives in training so we can be more educated to provide better guesses," she reflected.

After working to reduce the time each investigation takes, The Utah Medical Examiner’s Office has recently been accredited by the National Academy of Medical Examiners.

“To meet those standards, we need to have, I think it's 90% of cases done in 90 days,” Dr. Amaro said. “We are on track with that.”

Utah is one of few states with has a statewide medical examiner system, meaning every post-mortem examination comes to their office.

“That's really important from a public health standpoint,” Dr. Amaro says. “Because we get better data about what's killing people in our communities, and better data means we can potentially come up with better public health interventions to hopefully prevent future deaths.”

With the complexity of coming up with those educated guesses, Dr. Amaro says her job is not at all like the CSI shows…no quick and clear answers.

“I do enjoy watching them,” Dr. Amaro said when asked about her favorite crime drama. “Just because my brain can completely shut off because it's completely not realistic at all.”

Dr. Amaro says the biggest misconception about the job is that they become desensitized.

“People think, Oh, you deal with dead people, whatever. Like, end of story, but we're still very traumatized by what we do here. We see horrible things on a daily basis, and that affects all of us," she explained.

Despite this, the positives outweigh the challenges.

“If I do my job good enough, if I help collect the right data, if I help paint the right picture of what's killing people in our community, then I think I can help prevent future deaths," Dr. Amaro reflected. "And when I'm able to see that, when I'm able to get good answers from my work, that's very exciting and soul-nourishing."