Life lessons from the mortuary team
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