Life lessons from the mor­tu­ary team

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If you do­nate your body to med­i­cal sci­ence, you could find your­self in the hands of a mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cian such as Stephen Lind­say-Smith.

Stephen is the tech­ni­cal man­ager for hu­man anatomy and sur­gi­cal skills at the univer­sity of Manch­ester, lead­ing a team that pre­pares be­queathed bod­ies for use in teach­ing anatomy.

‘At school I en­joyed dis­sec­tion in bi­ol­ogy and do­ing sci­ence ex­per­i­ments. I did a ge­ol­ogy de­gree, but a work place­ment led to a ca­reer as a fu­neral di­rec­tor and a qual­i­fi­ca­tion in em­balm­ing,’ says Stephen. ‘I later ap­plied for a job as trainee anatom­i­cal mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cian here at Manch­ester univer­sity, and now head the team.’

‘our work in­cludes ap­ply­ing stain to cells so they can be bet­ter seen un­der a mi­cro­scope; cre­at­ing skele­tal and tis­sue dis­plays to al­low stu­dents to see parts of the hu­man body; and mak­ing chem­i­cal so­lu­tions to pre­serve tis­sue.’

The mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cian be­lieves com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills are essen­tial for the job.

‘We talk to fam­i­lies of be­reaved peo­ple to ex­plain what they can expect. Be­stow­ing a body to anatom­i­cal study is of­ten a life­time’s wish, so fam­i­lies are of­ten sup­port­ive and proud when the time comes for the body to be do­nated to our de­part­ment.’

Stick­ing to strict reg­u­la­tions and at­ten­tion to de­tail in the pa­per­work are also im­por­tant. Stephen says: ‘At any time, we must be able to iden­tify the ca­daver from which a spec­i­men has come and be able to match the re­mains of the de­ceased to a be­queathal form to prove that con­sent was prop­erly given. If the necessary doc­u­men­ta­tion is not com­pleted prop­erly, then we could be shut down.’

To train as a mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cian or anatom­i­cal pathol­ogy tech­ni­cian, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Anatom­i­cal Pathol­ogy Tech­nol­ogy (AAPT) rec­om­mends that can­di­dates have at least five GCSEs, grades 9-4 (A*-C), in­clud­ing English, maths and a sci­ence, prefer­ably bi­ol­ogy. you will also need to have good in­ter­per­sonal and team­work skills and be able to use your ini­tia­tive.

Trainee po­si­tions to be­come an anatom­i­cal pathol­ogy tech­ni­cian are not easy to get. A trainee­ship takes two years and com­bines aca­demic study with work-based learning.

Con­tact your lo­cal hos­pi­tals and pub­lic mor­tu­ar­ies to ask about po­si­tions, and look at the AAPT web­site’s va­can­cies sec­tion.

for ca­reers in­for­ma­tion, see aap­tuk. org, tech­ni­cians. org. uk, ucas. com and nhsca­reers.nhs.uk (search for anatom­i­cal pathol­ogy).

The Hu­man Tis­sue Author­ity of­fers a guide to do­nat­ing your body to med­i­cal sci­ence. See hta.gov.uk.

Sup­port: Stephen pre­pares bod­ies for use in teach­ing anatomy

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