A forensic autopsy technician is responsible for providing technical assistance when diagnosing disease or trauma within the realm of medicolegal autopsies.
Essential duties of forensic autopsy technicians may include:
- Positioning and photographing bodies and organs
- Opening and closing bodies
- Drawing and spinning blood samples
- Taking cultures
- Collecting latent and cast fingerprints
- Removing organs, tissues and fluids
- Performing diagnostic imaging activities, including body and dental x-rays
- Photographing and documenting wounds and areas of injury
- Preparing and preserving forensic evidence
- Collecting and preserving clothing, physical and biological evidence for forensic analysis
- Assisting forensic scientists in specialty forensic examinations, such as dental or anthropology examinations
- Preparing preliminary summaries of the deceased’s clinical history
- Maintaining detailed records of all collected evidence and examinations
- Overseeing the release of bodies to funeral homes
Forensic autopsy technicians, who may be medical students or autopsy laboratory interns, must have a clear understanding of departmental policies and procedures, including safety, environmental and infection control standards and quality improvement. Their work requires them to maintain radiological and medical equipment; maintain an inventory of equipment, supplies and accessories; and clean and sterilize equipment.
Forensic autopsy technicians, who are most commonly employed by a medical examiner/coroner’s office, work in an autopsy room within a forensic laboratory and alongside forensic pathologists, forensic investigators, and morgue attendants.
Forensic autopsy technician jobs involve having a working knowledge of:
- Modern forensic, pathological, and laboratory principles and practices
- Medical nomenclature and anatomy
- Statutory requirements pertinent to medical examiners
- Universal precautions and safety guidelines
- Photography and x-rays
- Laboratory procedures
Their work may require them to lift and move heavy bodies. They must use sound judgment to assess situations, evaluate alternatives, and make recommendations. They must be able to understand and interpret written material, including technical material and instructions, and they must be able to work productively and efficiently both independently and with other forensic scientists.
What is a Forensic Autopsy?
A forensic autopsy includes postmortem tests and examinations performed in an effort to determine the presence of an injury or disease that may have contributed to the individual’s death. A forensic autopsy is overseen by a forensic pathologist who has been specially trained to recognize patterns of injury and to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death. When a death appears to be suspicious or unusual, the medical examiner is notified, an investigation is started, and a forensic autopsy is completed. Information gleaned through the completion of a forensic autopsy is often used to solve criminal investigations.
Forensic autopsies help identify three elements of a crime: (1) cause of death; (2) the mechanism of death; and (3) the manner of death. Forensic autopsies may be performed by the Office of the Medical Examiner or at a coroner’s officer. Within a forensic case, the manner of death is generally a homicide or a suicide, and the cause of death may be everything from blunt force trauma to knife wounds and drug overdoses. An autopsy may uncover important clues about the murder weapon, the time of death, and whether the body has been moved from the crime scene to another location after death.
Education, Experience and Training for Forensic Autopsy Technicians
The general educational requirement for forensic autopsy technicians is an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in chemistry, physiology, biology, biochemistry, or a related field. Other acceptable educational paths may include nursing, health education, and funeral arts and sciences.
Employers may require candidates to possess experience as a surgical assistant, autopsy assistant, laboratory assistant, radiology technician, or a similar position through which they have attained knowledge in human anatomy, the use of surgical instruments, and aseptic techniques.
Because medical students may pursue jobs as forensic autopsy technicians, some employers accept candidates who have successfully completed at least 60 credit hours in a health related, science related or laboratory related curriculum from an accredited college or university.
Further, forensic autopsy technicians may have to pass an examination to practice radiology within a medical examiner’s office.
Salary Expectations for Forensic Autopsy Technicians
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for forensic science technicians was $51,750 in May 2010, with the top 10 percent earning more than $82,990. Further, the BLS reports that employment in this profession is expected to increase by 19 percent from 2010 to 2010.
Recent job postings reveal a salary range for forensic autopsy technician of between $28,000 and $37,685, with a salary range for lead forensic autopsy technicians of between $58,489 and $74,131.