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Job security isn’t usually an issue for autopsy assistants. In fact, their work is practically recession-proof. The assistants prepare bodies for autopsies, assist medical examiners and pathologists during autopsy procedures, and weigh and measure specimens and fluids. If working with the dead doesn’t bother you, an autopsy career can be a good choice.
An autopsy assistant, also called a forensic autopsy technician, plays an integral role in the efficiency of the autopsy suite. They move bodies to the autopsy table from the morgue refrigerator and back again, remove clothing from the deceased, clean bodies and store clothing and valuables.
Diagnostic tests aren’t just for the living. X-rays of the body can help medical examiners determine what happened to the deceased before he died, while dental X-rays provide a means of identifying bodies affected by facial injuries or significant decay. In addition to operating X-ray machines, autopsy technicians draw blood for testing, weigh and measure specimens, and take the deceased’s fingerprints.
The autopsy technician makes sure that medical examiners or pathologists have everything they need to perform autopsies. Assistants obtain medical histories, arrange tools and equipment needed for the autopsy, take photographs of the deceased, and make sure that gowns, gloves and other protective gear are available.
Once the autopsy begins, the assistant may use saws and other tools to open the body and remove and weigh organs at the director of the medical examiner. He also collects and prepares samples for laboratory analysis.
If foul play is suspected, the autopsy technician must carefully preserve evidence. Wounds must be noted and documented with photographs or video. Assistants must also follow proper procedure for storing clothing and personal effects to ensure that fingerprints and DNA can be collected and analyzed.
After the autopsy is over, the autopsy assistant closes incisions on the body with sutures, cleans the table and equipment, ensures that specimens reach the appropriate laboratories or testing facilities, updates records and releases the body to the funeral home. They may also release personal property and clothing to the deceased’s next of kin.
Autopsy assistants spend much of the day on their feet and must be able to move and lift bodies. Working in an autopsy suite can be emotionally trying at times. Although it may be impossible not to react to particularly tragic deaths, autopsy assistants must be able to keep their emotions under control, for the most part.
Education and Training
Minimum educational requirements vary, depending on the facility. It may be possible to obtain a job as an autopsy assistant with a high school diploma in some areas of the country. In others, completion of a certificate-based autopsy technician program or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a scientific major or mortuary science is required.
New autopsy technicians may be mentored by current employees, participate in a formal training program or receive instruction from medical examiners or pathologists during the first few weeks on the job.
Salary and Job Outlook
Indeed lists the average autopsy technician salary as $37,249. Salaries may vary, depending on your education, experience and on the geographical region of the country in which you work.
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t offer a job outlook specifically for autopsy assistants, it does expect the demand for funeral service workers to increase by 5 percent through 2026. As the two fields are closely aligned, demand for autopsy assistants can be expected to follow the same trend.
Holly McGurgan has a degree in journalism and previously worked as a non-profit public relations and communications manager. She often writes about career and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared online on Healthline, Working for Candy and other sites.