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Forensic Medicine and Pathology

The Department of Forensic Medicine and Pathology is one of the departments of the School of Clinical Medicine in the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand. The “academic seat” of the department is currently based at the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Service (FPS) Medico-Legal Mortuary in Braamfontein, where medico-legal autopsies are also performed. The academic staff includes specialist forensic pathologists, registrars studying towards their specialist degrees, forensic medical officers and research scientists.

Undergraduate and Postgraduate Medicine Courses

The department has dual responsibilities, being involved in academic undergraduate and postgraduate training and research at Wits University, as well as Forensic Pathology service delivery to the Gauteng DoHSD and other stakeholders such as the SA Police Service, Department of Justice and families of the deceased.

Forensic Pathology

The main “service” role of the department is the performance of medico-legal post mortem examinations and -investigations in all cases of unnatural deaths. This includes testifying in our Courts on facts, special investigations and evidence found during autopsies, as well rendering expert opinion testimony on selected cases. The department strives to render a service providing internationally recognized and independent investigations of death: We wish to be seen as an entity which serves the interest of justice through the application of standardised scientific methods, ensuring accuracy of results, whilst at the same time aspiring towards excellence in academic teaching, training and research.

The department is involved in various academic University training programs, but also provides training to members of the SA Police Service, Emergency Medical Services, the Judiciary, Forensic Scientists, Forensic Pathology Support Officers etc.

Professor Jeanine Vellema is Head of the Department and leads a medical staff complement of 22 full time (joint University/FPS DoHSD appointment) and 9 part time FPS medical doctors, who are variously based at 7 FPS Medico-Legal Mortuaries in Southern Gauteng. A medical laboratory technologist and administrative secretary also form part of the department’s staff establishment.

With the renewed emphasis on quality teaching and research outputs in the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences, the department was able to successfully motivate for 2 academic forensic scientist posts during the past 2 years. Since then the department has embarked on a revitalised research drive, initiating and becoming involved in a number of research-related activities and collaborations with other entities.

Forensic Sciences Research

We are currently collaborating with the Department of Anatomy, University of Pretoria on a number of research projects, as well as jointly organised courses and workshops in Forensic Anthropology. There are also a number of MSc, MMed and Honours students who are presently conducting research within the Division.

Aligned with Wits University’s Academic Plan for 2010 – 2014, the Department of Forensic Medicine and Pathology has been working hard at improving and expanding our teaching and research-related activities and outputs.