The doctor who solves mysteries

If you relied on Hollywood, you’d think that medical examiners are stern phlegmatic sorts. But this certainly isn’t the case when you meet Dr. Matt Bowes, Nova Scotia’s chief medical examiner.

He has a kindly demeanour and a fascinating background. After earning a medical degree at Queen’s University, he went on to study anatomical pathology at Dalhousie University, and the forensic pathology at the Miami–Dade County Medical Examiner Department.

In 2003 Bowes became immersed in the harshest realities of his profession. when he became an associate medical examiner and forensic fellow with the Miami-Dade County’s medical examiner’s department in Florida.

Working with renowned medical examiner Dr. Joseph Davis (who performed some 10,000 autopsies over his career) inspired him. “I would say that he was a brilliant man who loved to teach and was universally admired by everyone who met him,” Bowes recalls. 

That opportunity prepared him to become chief medical examiner in Halifax in 2004. 

He soon discovered that the medical examiner’s s building in Halifax was in a terrible condition, cramped and poorly designed. Bowes began lobbying for a new building, convincing three MLAs to tour the state-of-the-art chief medical examiner’s offices in Florida where he had spent a year. “They were give an in-depth tour, they met the chief medical examiner, and what they saw there couldn’t help but persuade them that I was right,” Bowes says.

In 2012, the Dr. William D. Finn Centre for Forensic Medicine opened in Dartmouth. (Finn was Canada’s first medical examiner, known for his work after the Halifax Explosion and Titanic disaster). and he had worked through the Halifax explosion and the Titanic disaster.)

Bowes is proud of the building. “We have a very comfortable meeting room where highly trained nurses with backgrounds in forensic medicine and critical care nursing now provide an environment that is so comforting for those who have often been badly traumatized,” he says.

He adds that he considers being able to help people find closure, especially in perplexing cases, is a privilege. 

“I believe it is absolutely imperative when, for example, there was no evidence that a crime had taken place, nor was negligence involved, that I share this consoling information with those who have been hurting so much,” he explains. “I recognize that, in the past, when this did not happen… loved ones must have been left haunted by such a painful legacy.”

The tone turns lighter when Bowes discusses what his four children think of his job: “I think it was my wife who first began to tell the kids that I am a doctor who solves mysteries.” 

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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