So, I got this e-mail the other day:
With a Master’s in Anatomy from [Uni Where I Work] would I be qualified and easily find a job assisting in autopsies at a coroner’s/Forensic Pathologist’s office? Or would a Master’s in Pathology Assistant be a better option for that specific job? My ultimate goal is to assist a forensic pathologist/ coroner in legal/medical examinations.
I hate getting e-mails and letters like this one. The first answer is yes, a person with a Master’s in Applied Anatomy would be very qualified to assist in autopsies in a medical examiner’s office. The problem is the “easily find a job” bit. No-one finds those jobs easily because there aren’t that many of them.
Most forensic pathologists assistants I have worked with have been licenced funeral director embalmers. They’ve been employed by the office or by the hospital where the autopsies are performed, and the youngest guy was employed by a funeral home for about nine years. The next youngest guy had been employed by the hospital for 25 years, when he was let go in layoffs, under the principle of last hired, first fired. These facts tell you something about the turnover in these jobs–it happens with glacial slowness, primarily, and there’s no job security even after a quarter century on the job. The guy who has been around the longest has started doing this work in 1967, I believe.
Then again, forensic work is not usually someones primary job. They work in a funeral home or hospital and are either junior enough to be stuck with the work or are willing to do it. These people, if not funeral directors are pathologists assistants. The vast majority of their time is spent working at the surgical bench, and the autopsies are a very low priority. In one hospital, the hospital pathologists did twenty autopsies one year, and complained of how busy they were and how it took away from their paying jobs. (An full time, forensic person will be doing around ten to fifteen times as many in a year, perhaps more).
Thirdly, a lot of people working as forensic technologists, fingerprint experts, and the like have a background in both science AND law enforcement. The law enforcement is key, that background is important for gaining trust of the people one is working for.
So, basically, getting the Masters in Anatomy would not hurt, but it is not a magic key. We could use folks who are interested, and they could build a path into the profession, but the path isn’t there yet, and I have a hard time encouraging people to be the trailblazers. The program could use the students, but graduate credits aren’t cheap, after all.