An autopsy technician -- also called a forensic autopsy technician -- helps a pathologist perform postmortem examinations. These allied health professionals can perform many of the tasks of an autopsy, although they cannot make a medical diagnosis. Requirements to become an autopsy technician vary.
Important Skills and Characteristics
An autopsy technician works with the pathologist in a similar fashion to a medical assistant who works with a physician or surgeon, and needs similar skills. Detail orientation and precision are important for tasks such as collecting data, weighing specimens or performing lab tasks. The autopsy technician should have good technical skills and eye-hand coordination. She must be ethical and able to keep information confidential. Since she might work independently or as part of a team, she needs both initiative and good interpersonal skills. She must also be comfortable working with people who have died from disfiguring diseases and trauma.
The Short Version
Requirements for autopsy technicians vary from one state to another or from one employer to another. As unlicensed healthcare workers, they might be trained on the job or have formal education. Community colleges or universities offer certificate programs in the field. If such a program is available, it might be the fastest and least expensive way to start a career as an autopsy technician. Most programs cover the basics of anatomy, forensic science and legal issues such as the chain of evidence and courtroom testimony.
Beef Up the Education
An associate degree might increase your opportunities as an autopsy technician. Degrees in clinical laboratory science, biological science, chemistry and histology are all good options. You can also find associate programs in medical assisting. An associate degree typically takes two years and many programs have prerequisites. If you can also obtain experience working in a clinical laboratory, funeral home or morgue, it will increase your chances of finding a job. Although it is less likely to be required to become an autopsy technician, a bachelor’s degree might also open occupational doors in this field.
Get Certified and Earn
Certifications are available for medical assistants, although none are specific to forensics or the role of an autopsy technician. Several different certifying agencies offer certification, and requirements vary. Forensic certifications, however, are available from the International Association for Identification. Certification requirements are typically related to experience rather than education, but they might also have requirements such as a certain number of hours of formal training. Indeed.com reports the average annual salary for autopsy technicians was $41,000 in June of 2014.