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Autopsy Technician


Do you have an insatiable curiosity about what goes on under the lens of the microscope? Are you intrigued instead of disgusted by the idea of studying the human body during an autopsy? If so, have you ever considered a career as an autopsy technician? Autopsy technicians assist pathologists during autopsies, acting as detectives of death. They analyze data and prepare the necessary autopsy reports in order to establish the cause and circumstances of death.

Autopsy technicians assist in the performance of post-mortem examinations. They must obtain the proper legal authorization and the patient's medical history chart before beginning. They must coordinate special requests for specimens and assist the pathologist in a post-mortem examination. They will also take photographs and record information to help write the autopsy report.

Some technicians performing administrative duties such as morgue administration, filing reports and data, assuring the completion of specimen coding and billing. They are in charge of notifying a funeral home and other authorities about an autopsy along with preparing the body for release to the funeral home when the procedure is finished. If a person had any special medical requests to donate his or her organs for research, the technician will see to their requests.

Some autopsy technicians photograph the body, organs and take slides. They may also be in charge of equipment maintenance and cleanliness. Autopsy technicians may teach surgical dissection and autopsy techniques to undergraduate and graduate students or at least supervise related personnel. They may also be in charge of writing the autopsy report.

Autopsy technicians contribute to the overall efficiency of the morgue laboratory or pathology practice in a cost effective manner. They help pathologists perform autopsies on adults and stillborn babies.
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  Interests and Skills  
Autopsy technicians are analytical, innovative thinkers with excellent problem solving skills. They have a natural affinity and aptitude for mathematics and science and can often visualize complex processes. They are not be afraid of working with the deceased.

Technicians possess excellent communication skills, both written and oral, and have the ability to work well in teams and alone. They also possess the ability to pay close attention to details when conducting research, while working with special dissection instruments.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Get proper legal authorization to perform an autopsy
  • Retrieve the patient's medical chart and other pertinent data for review with the attending pathologist
  • Confer with the pathologist to identify any special techniques and procedures to be utilized in the completion of the postmortem examination, such as cultures, smears or electron microscopy studies
  • Notify the physician in charge, the funeral home and all other appropriate authorities prior to the beginning of the autopsy
  • Coordinate any requests for special specimen sampling, like organ transplantation or research
  • Perform postmortem examinations which may include external examination, in situ organ inspection, evisceration, dissection
  • Dictate or record data such as organ weights, presence of body fluids and gross anatomic findings
  • Select, prepare and submit appropriate gross tissue sections for frozen section analysis as well as for light, electron and immunofluorescent microscopy
  • Obtain biological specimens such as blood, tissue and toxicological material for studies including image analysis and perform special procedures such as inner ear bone dissection or spinal cord removal
  • Photograph the body, organs, microscopic slides and other pertinent materials
  • Gather and organize clinical information and data pertinent to the preparation of the preliminary summarization of the clinical history
  • Prepare the body for release (indicate the presence of biohazards such as contagious disease) to an appropriate mortuary or funeral home representative
  • Properly maintain equipment, supplies and the cleanliness of the autopsy suite
  • Autopsy technicians assist pathologists in the dissection of specific tissues during an autopsy in the morgue. Many are exposed to disagreeable odors and infectious diseases, therefore they must take the proper safety precautions necessary to protect their health. They work standard 40-hour weeks.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Autopsy technicians are employed by hospitals, research and development laboratories, morgues, funeral homes and other related industries. They can also be found researching and teaching in the education field or working in all levels of the government.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for autopsy technicians? Those with experience may gain higher levels of responsibility and begin performing more advanced autopsy and dissection procedures. With further education, they can also advance to become pathologists, quality control technicians, senior supervisors or part of hospital management. Some autopsy technicians that take additional training can teach autopsy and dissection in technical institutes. Others may work as technical writers, morticians or funeral directors.

  Educational Paths  
The educational requirements for becoming an autopsy technician is either a Bachelor of Science degree in biology or nursing or a two-year technician degree at a community college or technical institute. Many technicians also train as pathologists' assistants as their work is quite similar in assisting pathologists during an autopsy.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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