Working in a coroner’s office or medical examiner’s office could be a good job for people interested in science, the human body, and helping families find out what may have caused the death of a loved one. Becoming a forensic autopsy technician is one option for those fascinated by human anatomy and not squeamish around the idea of dissecting bodies. Additionally, this career typically does not require extensive postsecondary learning.
Forensic autopsy technicians can often work a regular 9-to-5 schedule, assisting a forensic pathologist in working on bodies that come in overnight or during the day. However, depending on the facility’s needs, they may sometimes be required to cover weekend and holiday shifts part-time.
Autopsy technician work includes preparing the autopsy suite, providing specimen containers for examination, moving bodies, and assisting the pathologist with various exam parts. This could involve eviscerating and weighing organs and collecting toxicology samples. Other responsibilities might include taking notes, photographing the body, suturing a body closed, and releasing a body to a mortician.
Generally, a minimum of certificate-level training or an associate degree in a field such as biology, funeral science, or a similar subject is required. However, knowledge about anatomy, physiology, and medical lab practices included in most bachelor’s degree curriculums will help increase job opportunities.
Other skills that are important for forensic autopsy technicians include staying objective, working under difficult and sometimes unpleasant conditions, and communicating with various people, from families to law enforcement officials and funeral homes. Technicians must also be capable of moving bodies, sometimes up to 300 pounds or more, alone or with assistance.
Read on to learn more about a career as a forensic autopsy technician.
Job growth estimates are not available specifically for forensic autopsy technicians from the US Bureau of Statistics, which tracks trends for major occupations. However, the BLS (2022) includes autopsy assistants within the “medical assistant” category and estimates job opportunities in this field will grow 16 percent from 2021 to 2031. This job growth is much faster than the average for all jobs, which is 5 percent for that same time frame.
Those who want to enter the field are encouraged to start their job search by looking through governmental sites, which employ people at various levels, from county medical examiner jobs to positions at federal facilities, such as an air force base. Additionally, a department of pathology and laboratory medicine at a university could also provide interested students with opportunities for employment as forensic autopsy technicians.
Finally, joining a professional group, such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), can be another way to look for job opportunities through professional networking and by utilizing that group’s online job listings.
The pay for forensic autopsy technicians varies by location and by state. The BLS does not track salaries for those with a forensic autopsy technician education but shows that forensic scientists earn average annual salaries of $69,260 (BLS 2022). Other sources provide context for salary based on more specific job descriptions.
For example, Salary.com (2023) stated that the average autopsy technician salary was $48,511, typically between $42,573 and $55,671. According to Indeed.com (2023), a worldwide job website indicates that forensic autopsy technicians earn approximately $40,652 annually in the United States. Another source, Simplyhired.com (2023), shows the average salary for autopsy technician jobs near the United States is $40,127. In summary, these figures appear lower than the annual salaries listed above by the BLS but may provide more accurate information based on their specific occupational title.
Salaries for forensic autopsy technicians vary based on the location of the position and the experience required of an applicant.
Job requirements vary depending on the employing organization and the skills sought by an employee. Generally, forensic autopsy technician education will enable you to learn the basics about working in a medical examiner’s office and acquire general scientific knowledge.
While not all people will take the same path toward becoming a forensic autopsy technician, the following are the most common steps:
Since most people in this career have at least a bachelor’s degree, a high school graduate can expect to spend around four more years in school before they can start finding work in the field. Those who earn an advanced degree, which is not required, can expect six more years in school (or eight years in the case of a part-time master’s program).
Check out the online forensics degree guide to discover various degree programs to begin this career path.
Forensic autopsy technicians work alongside and under the supervision of medical examiners and forensic pathologists to determine the cause of death of the bodies they examine. Forensic autopsy technicians will be required to work on victims of violent deaths and also help to examine the bodies of those whose cause of death is undetermined. Some examples of undetermined causes of death include unknown health issues or cases of sudden death.
Some of the regular tasks that a forensic autopsy technician may be expected to complete include:
No particular licensure or certification is needed to work as a forensic autopsy technician. However, there are specific things that are necessary to gain employment. Generally, job applicants must be fingerprinted and pass a criminal background check. Most forensic autopsy technicians must have a valid driver’s license and typically be able to move significant amounts of weight, sometimes up to 500 pounds, utilizing tools such as carts and dollies. These requirements are things to consider when pursuing a career as a forensic autopsy technician.
As mentioned above, some forensic autopsy technicians may be eligible for certification from the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI). Certification from this group requires that the applicant “be employed in a Medical Examiner or Coroner office or equivalent federal authority with the job responsibility to ‘conduct death scene investigations’ or supervise such investigations at the time of application and examination.”
Those with 640 hours of experience are eligible for Registry Certification, while those with 4,000 hours of experience over the last six years are eligible to become Board Certified. This certification does not confer any legal benefits but can help gain more job opportunities over time.
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Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).