How to Become an Anatomical Pathology Technician in the UK

Bones Anatomical Pathology Technician

As an Anatomical Pathology Technician (APT), you would work in support of doctors and pathologists during post-mortem examinations. A post-mortem is carried out in order to determine the cause of a person’s death. The deceased’s body is examined in great detail, samples of blood and tissue are taken, and the internal organs are removed, weighed and measured.  

If you have an interest in biology and science, you might be interested in this challenging career. You’ll need to be able to view your work objectively and not be upset by the sights and smells that come with working around dead bodies.

If this sounds like the sort of job you’d be interested in, this is the career guide for you:

What do anatomical pathology technicians do?

Your work would primarily involve assisting the pathologist in carrying out post-mortem examinations. Your duties would include:

  • taking tissue samples
  • passing surgical instruments to the pathologist
  • weighing organs as they are removed from the deceased’s body
  • recording the findings of the post-mortem examination

Following the conclusion of the post-mortem, you would help in reconstructing the body and cleaning it in preparation for release to an undertaker, or for storage. More experienced APTs also work assisting forensic pathologists in the examination of victims of murder.

Other daily duties in addition to post-mortem work would include:

  • sterilising and cleaning instruments
  • booking bodies into the mortuary
  • placing the deceased into cold storage drawers
  • maintaining accurate records
  • recording and tracking samples
  • recording the deceased’s property

On a daily basis you would work closely with pathologists, the police, the Coroner’s office and the relatives of people who have died.

Work environment

Your working week would typically be 37.5 hours in duration. You would work a shift system that might include weekends and Bank Holidays. You may also be required to work ‘on-call’ shifts periodically.

Some of your work would be office-based in the mortuary department. When you are carrying out post-mortem work, you will be working in a clinical, sterile environment. For your own protection and to avoid cross-contamination of bodies that are part of police investigations, you would wear protective clothing. Your working gear would usually comprise latex gloves, rubber boots, a visor and a floor-length operating theatre gown.


Trainee APT£16,633 per annumFully qualified, experienced APT£21,692 - £28,180 per annum

You would also be entitled to extra payments for overtime, on-call duties and shift allowance.

Source: National Careers Service

Entry requirements

To begin training as an APT, you need at least five GCSEs (grades ‘A’ – ‘C’). These must include Maths, English and one science (preferably biology).

Previous work experience of administration and record keeping would be an advantage, as would evidence that you are practically-minded.

Part of your work will involve dealing with families who have recently been bereaved, sometimes in traumatic circumstances, so you must be able to demonstrate sensitivity. A working knowledge of different religious beliefs and practices surrounding death is also useful.

Important skills and abilities

A good APT will be able to demonstrate:

  • strong written and verbal communication skills
  • sensitivity when dealing with the bereaved
  • a keen interest in science and the workings of the human body
  • a mature attitude
  • the ability to adhere to health and safety procedures
  • accuracy, attention to detail and a methodical approach to work

Career progression

The first two years of your trainee APT role will involve watching and assisting pathologists and experienced APTs at work. You will combine this on-the-job training with studying towards the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) Certificate in Anatomical Pathology Technology which covers:

  • anatomy and physiology
  • hygiene, health and safety
  • infection control
  • legal aspects and codes of practice
  • post-mortem techniques
  • administration

On successful completion of the Certificate, you can apply to join the RSPH as an Associate Member.

The next qualification you could work towards is the RSPH Diploma in Anatomical Pathological Technology. This two year course is a more in-depth version of the Certificate and also teaches you what you need to know to actually run a mortuary. Successful accomplishment of the Diploma entitles to to full RSPH membership.

Another useful society to join is the Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology (AAPT). Membership would provide you with access to other career development opportunities and materials.

Job opportunities

The majority of job opportunities in this sector are to be found within the NHS, although you could also find vacancies in public mortuaries run by your local authority.

Armed with the RSPH Diploma, you could move your career more towards training other health professionals, management roles or more advanced technical mortuary-based work.

APT job vacancies and opportunities for trainee positions are sometimes advertised in the local and national papers, or through your local NHS Trust. The government’s Universal Jobmatch website is also a good place to search.

Finally, the ONS projects that the Health Sector workforce will rise to about about 3.35 million jobs by 2020. This means that there should be job opportunities for Anatomical Pathology Technicians.

So, if you enjoy science and are interested in the human body, a career as an Anatomical Pathology Technician could be just what you’re looking for. Remember though that you will be dealing with dead bodies on a daily basis, so this role is not for you if you don’t have a strong stomach or are easily upset.