Alumni Spotlight: Forensic Pathologist, Dr. Lorraine Lopez-Morell
Former Pathology resident, Dr. Lorraine Lopez-Morell, is achieving her dream of being a forensic pathologist right in Rochester.
Dr. Lopez is the Associate Medical Examiner in the Office of the Monroe County Medical Examiner.
She was raised in Puerto Rico and came to the U.S. at the age of 18 to go to Michigan State University for undergrad. While she was very young, her father passed away while waiting for a heart transplant.
This tragedy inspired her to pursue a career that would allow her to help other people. The field of pathology drew her interest.
"I love taking things apart and figuring out how everything works in the body like a machine, and that's what pathology essentially is," she said. "You have to know every single aspect of the human body."
After earning her MD from Columbia University in NY City, Dr. Lopez came to UR for residency from 2010-14. During that time, she was impressed by the work ethic that played a big part in shaping the culture there.
"Most of the attendings taught me what it means to be a real professional; how to do the hard work and appreciate what you've done at the end of the day, and go home satisfied with that,” she said. “I think that was really important to everyone as an overarching theme – to leave no stone unturned and be really at peace with what you've worked on that day."
As a medical examiner, she is doing just that. From testifying in court to dealing with police, attorneys, jury members and those who are laypeople in terms of medicine, she is able to take something as complex as an autopsy and make it easy to understand.
The Office of the Medical Examiner follows statues on what cases require autopsies or what examination is required for a given case. While the chief medical examiner (whom, in Monroe County, is fellow alumna, Dr. Nadia Granger) has discretionary power over what kinds of cases require autopsy, there are several types of cases in which it’s always required: If a person is killed or suspected to have been killed at the hands of someone else, killed by their own hand, or dies accidentally. Dr. Lopez says these requirements are not likely to change anytime soon.
Every autopsy is very hands-on. And while some see digital imaging as a feasible alternative (in some cases), the necessary equipment is costly and the image resolution not up to par with an actual autopsy.
Part of her role includes explaining the cause of death to family members of the deceased.
"Here, if families have a lot of questions, we're happy to speak with them about interpreting what's in our reports," she said. "I find it rewarding, to listen to someone come to the realization that they understand what really happened to their loved one."
In addition to her daily workload, Dr. Lopez is interested in doing research. This month, she will present research on a heart condition called left-dominant arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy to the National Association of Medical Examiners.
She hopes to explore public health issues in the future, such as the rising number of opioid-related deaths in the county.
After finishing residency, Dr. Lopez completed two forensic pathology fellowships; first at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and at East Carolina University. A self-proclaimed Northeasterner, she now enjoys living in Rochester.
Her work requires the sort of strength and composure that doesn't waver in the midst of tragedy and the need to find answers. For her, though, it’s nothing to be afraid of.
"I'm not affected as much by thinking of death because it's an inevitable part of life," she said. "We can come to accept it, and talking about it is the first step."
Bethany Bushen |