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Anatomical pathology

In the NHS, the healthcare science staff who work in hospital mortuaries are currently called anatomical pathology technologists (APTs). Outside of the NHS, they also work in local authority public mortuaries.

The role of an APT is varied and there are many different areas of expertise required. One of the main roles is to provide assistance to a pathologist in conducting post mortems. This is a vital area of work as understanding the causes of death enables better understanding of the diseaseprocess and in some cases, when death is unexpected, the cause of death can have legal implications. The extent of involvement and responsibility of the APT during the post mortem examination will increase as the APT gains skills and knowledge. The APT is responsible for the reconstruction of the deceased after examination and this is an important skill.

APTs are responsible for the day to day running of the mortuary facility and this includes administration and record keeping. As well as records of the deceased and propertywithin their care the APT is responsible for recording samples, specimens and organs and their appropriate disposal.

APTs liaise with a range of people including medical staff (for example pathologists, general practitioners and clinicians), nursing staff and police. APTs also liaise with funeral directors, spiritual care personnel and the bereaved.

APTs must ensure that the bereaved are dealt with sympathetically and respectfully. They are involved in arranging and conducting viewings, offering advice and gaining consent from the relatives for post mortem examinations.APTs need to be aware of the diversity of religious and cultural issues surrounding death and act appropriately.

Other responsibilities an APT has include:

  • providing advice regarding documentation and medico legal issues
  • maintaining the mortuary and post mortem room
  • ensuring equipment and instruments are kept clean, sterile and ready for use
  • taking samples for clinical examination, transplant or research
  • advising junior medical staff on post mortem procedures and examinations
  • ensuring legal documentation is dealt with correctly.

Once qualified, many APTs can undertake further study leading tohigher qualifications awarded by the Royal Society of Public Health, and many continue their careers into advanced technical work or mortuary management.

Skills required

To work in anatomical pathology, you will need effective verbal and written communication skills and be confident with technology and systems/processes. APTs have to be able to work as part of a team as well as on their own initiative.

An APT has to have a good knowledge of anatomy and be able to identify a wide range of commonly found pathology. Working in the mortuary environment you require a good understanding of Health & Safety including infection control, manual handling and risk assessment. All these are important to ensure the well being of staff and visitors to the mortuary.

More information on the skills required to work in healthcare science.

Entry points and requirements

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) for a post as a trainee anatomical pathology technologist. There is no discrimination against sex, age or height, although there is a requirement to be physically fit.

All NHS organisations in England (and those in Wales) advertise on the NHS Jobs website. Vacancies are also advertised on the AAPT website and in the local press and job centres.

Additionally, you can contact the human resources departments or hospital mortuary manager at NHS acute/hospital trusts for information about opportunities.

Training and education programmes

Training and education combines academic learning with work based experiential learning.

Trainees who are based within the NHS start their training with a short period of observing the wide range of mortuary procedures, followed by direct involvement in work under the supervision of senior APTs and pathologists. During this time you will attend teaching sessions on a course overseenby the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH). The theoretical learning will involve time away from the mortuary but practical skills will be developed during the course of your employment. Qualifications have both a theoretical and practical element.

Topics include:

  • anatomy and physiology
  • post mortem room techniques
  • hygiene
  • health and safety
  • legislation and codes of practice
  • administration and documentation.

Trainees who successfully complete all the elements of training including an examination will be awarded the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) Qualification in Anatomical Pathology Technology, combining written, practical and oral work.

As part of your career progression you will be expected to participate in continuing professional development (CPD) to show that you are keeping up to date with the policies, procedures and developments in your area of work.

It can be advantageous to have gained some experience of working in a relevant environment (such as a laboratory or with an undertakers or funeral directors) before applying for a job vacancy.


Registration is required for many healthcare science roles.

For anatomical pathology technologists, there is a voluntary register.

Please check individual job/training place vacancy details for information when applying.


For information about pay for staff working in healthcare science, please click here.

Further information

For further information about a career in anatomical pathology please contact:

Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology (AAPT)
12 Coldbath Square

Tel: 0207 2782151
Email: mail@aaptuk.org
Website: www.aaptuk.org

Information about APT Qualifications

The Royal Society for Public Health
John Snow House
59 Mansell Street
E1 8AN

Tel: 0207 265 7300
Email: info@rsph.org.uk
Web: www.rsph.org.uk