by Vannhi Huynh.
Forensics became a special interest of mine as I grew up watching detective shows such as NCIS, CSI, and Bones. I’ve always been amazed by the ability to analyze evidence and help solve crimes through forensic science. When the opportunity to interview a prominent forensic podiatrist emerged, I was ecstatic to learn more about this subspecialty. Dr. Michael Nirenberg is the current President of the American Society of Forensic Podiatry, who is also board-certified in clinical and forensic podiatry. He graciously agreed to spend his time after clinic to help enlighten us about various aspects of forensic podiatry.
Dr. Nirenberg had always been interested in forensic science. As a student in podiatry school, he was interested in learning how podiatrists can help law enforcement by using the knowledge of feet, gait, footprint and footwear, to help solve crimes. He pursued this interest, and eventually published “Forensic Methods and the Podiatric Physician” on the Journal of the American Podiatry Society.
After graduating from podiatry school, Dr. Nirenberg continued to pursue his passion in forensics by taking forensic science courses to further his education. Through this avenue, he became acquainted with members of the law force, and developed his reputation as a forensic podiatrist. In recent years, many of his clients are those who directly contact him because of his reputation or those who were referred to him by his previous clients. He’s been consulted on cases throughout the U.S. and even on a case that took place in Canada.
When asked about the types of forensic cases he assists with, Dr. Nirenberg responds that he mostly works on homicide cases, but he had also been contacted for armed robbery cases as well. Recently, Dr. Nirenberg was featured in HLN’s Lies, Crimes, and Videos’ episode of Murder in the Church. This case remained unsolved for three years because the most important piece of evidence is a surveillance footage that features the suspect, whose entire body was covered police-style tactical gear while carrying a hammer in his hand at the crime scene. Dr. Nirenberg’s task was to analyze the suspect’s gait in the surveillance video, and he was able to identify a matching gait in the group of suspects he observed. Dr. Nirenberg hopes that his analysis of the suspect’s gait in the footage may help close the investigation in the near future.
As much as Dr. Nirenberg loves forensic podiatry, he states that there are limitations to every field. In comparison to most forensic scientists, forensic podiatrists do not operate as part of a crime lab or government agency. Therefore, they do not have access to the same resources and tools during an investigation. Sometimes, podiatrists would have to request for additional resources with some bureaucratic involvements. Alternatively, operating as a free agent allows forensic podiatrists more autonomy. For example, Dr. Nirenberg is able to work on cases during the weekends or during his free time, as long as he is able to complete his assignment during the allotted time. Deadlines do exist because there are trials, but it usually takes several months until a case gets to trial.
Dr. Nirenberg believes that forensic podiatry is a growing field with an unrealized demand. There are many cases in which forensic podiatrists are qualified to consult in, but they are not sought after because not many law enforcement personnel know of this specialty. More commonly, forensic podiatrists are not consulted until the case has been opened for a while, and other options have already been exhausted.
Due to the lack of exposure of this field, Dr. Nirenberg believes there should be increased awareness of forensic podiatry. This awareness could start within our own student population. If current podiatric students are interested in forensic podiatry, they should reach out to the American Society of Forensic Podiatry (ASFP). ASFP provides members with periodic forensic exercises, news regarding forensics and forensic podiatry, and webinar sessions. As Dr. Nirenberg said:
“Podiatry is a broad field. Students should find aspects of podiatry that they’re passionate about and pursue it.”
If you are interested in forensic podiatry like I am, you should take the first step to explore this subspecialty. After all, membership is free to students!
by Vannhi Huynh.
School: Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine
Special Edition, Legal, Interview
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