This week, we’re so excited to introduce you to Barbara Peters – an anatomical pathology technologist (APT) who recently won a national award for Mortuary Technician of the Year.
Here, she shares her incredible experiences and stories. Read on to find her top tips for pursuing a career as a mortuary technician.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
I would describe myself as a very determined and highly motivated person. I do take my job seriously but I’m able to see things in perspective and believe I’m quite easy-going to work with. I’m an optimist rather than a pessimist – but I’m also a realist and I cope well when the going gets tough. Above all, I would say I’m a positive and enthusiastic person – and I relish a challenge!
Describe your current work and research.
I am a fully qualified anatomical pathology technologist which has enabled to assist many Home Office pathologists in conducting forensic post-mortems. I have been working as a locum in various mortuaries around the south as well as consulting and advising on forensic autopsy issues. I am now the Mortuary and Bereavement Services Manager at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. I also guest lecturer in forensic pathology to undergraduates at Kent and Worcester University. I have contributed in the past to some media publications such as Al Jazeera and the Guardian about my work and recently gained a national award for Mortuary Technician of the year, [and have also] won awards for my work with bereaved families.
What inspired you to join this field?
What drew me to the job was when I worked in the laboratory, I worked in a department that screened samples from post-mortems. As I read how these people died, I wanted to see what a post-mortem was all about. It was arranged with the pathologist for me to observe a post-mortem. I can still remember the case now very vividly, as it will always stay with me. It was an elderly lady who died at home from bronchopneumonia. The technicians who were [present] were doing everything from assisting the pathologist with the PM, the reconstruction after the PM and mostly the respect and care they showed in doing this job until she was released to the undertaker [stayed with me]. I felt that this was a rounded role I wanted to fulfil, help to investigate causes of death, aftercare of the person, to dealing with the relatives. A few years later, my own grandmother died suddenly at the same hospital, so I was comfortable with her aftercare from this elusive profession.
Describe your education and career trajectory to this point.
I started out working for the NHS in Bristol in 1992 in clinical chemistry. From there I moved to Glasgow in 1999, where I received my degree in forensic investigation and a post-graduate diploma in forensic medical sciences. Whilst I was working in the labs and studying, a trainee anatomical pathology technologist post became available and applied. I had in-house training from day one. After 18 months, I sat my exams and was awarded the certificate for anatomical pathology. Two years later, I was awarded the diploma in anatomical pathology. This meant I was fully-qualified to practice. To further my skills (especially dealing with the bereaved), I completed a certificate and diploma in counselling and grief/bereavement counselling. In 2014, I became a registered practitioner with the Academy of Healthcare Scientists and also a professional member of the Chartered Society of Forensic Scientists.
Tell us a story of something interesting you’ve worked on.
Because I am an anatomical pathology technologist, people sometimes think my day is full of “interesting” cases. Not so. My primary regime is a steady stream of assisting pathologists with sudden unexpected death cases as well as managing a busy service. Normally the interest in the case is the circumstances around the death and by using your skills and knowledge to assist to get to a cause of death. Many technicians are very experienced at this and seen more unusual cases that most pathologists! The whole job is interesting as it is so diverse. Apart from looking after someone’s loved one in the post-mortem room, you can deal with the families of all different cultures and creeds.
What tips can you provide for people wishing to pursue a career in your field?
Firstly, the main entry point into this area of work is with 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) at A-C, including english, maths and a science (ideally biology).
Secondly, you have to apply for a trainee anatomical pathology technologist post. It will definitely help if you have some anatomy knowledge. It is also an advantage if you have managed to get any work experience either with a funeral director or at a mortuary, however, due to the sensitive/confidential issues, a lot of mortuary managers will not take work experience students at all which can be frustrating.
This won’t guarantee you an interview either, as trainee posts are very competitive, so even if you cannot get work experience, demonstrate your ambition by becoming an APT by going to any talks, demonstrations and even further reading can help. Any skills can be transferable as full training will be giving in the role. Sometimes you might have to travel further afield to get a trainee role. I’ve had to move about the country a few times to get progression in my career but now I am ‘dun-roamin’!
Your turn: Do you have any questions for Barbara or our team? Leave them here.