Morgue assistants work in hospitals assisting pathologists or pathologists to complete autopsies, or work in funeral homes assisting funeral directors or embalmers to prepare bodies for burial. Most of the work a morgue assistant does is preparing and cleaning instrumentation, microscopic slides or laboratory equipment, along with clerical work, data entry and cleaning.
Federal Job Descriptions
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 Standard Occupational Classification System includes "morgue attendant" in the classification 31-9092, "medical assistants." Medical assistants perform clinical and administrative duties under the direction of a physician.
For pay, education and promotion purposes, the federal Office of Personnel Management specifies "morgue attendants" within the "autopsy assistant" series, GS-0625. The OPM lists the knowledge and education necessary for an autopsy assistant at the GS-4 federal pay grade level. A candidate at this level must have some experience as an autopsy assistant, morgue attendant, surgical assistant, laboratory assistant, or embalmer's assistant, or one year of postsecondary study that includes six semester hours of science coursework with lab work included.
Morgue Assistants Versus Funeral Directors and Embalmers
Each state licenses funeral directors and embalmers and in general requires candidates to have more education than morgue assistants or attendants would. A morgue attendant might work in a hospital or assist a funeral director with administrative or clerical duties, but a funeral director or embalmer does the actual embalming and mortuary work in a funeral home. According to the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, there are no uniform licensure requirements in the United States for funeral directors or embalmers; each state has its own requirements. Education for a state mortuary license varies, and might require only a high school diploma or GED, or might require a bachelor's degree. Thus, a funeral director and a morgue attendant might have attained similar levels of formal education in some states.
Most Useful Education and Courses
The educational classes most relevant to morgue assistant work include science classes such as biology, chemistry, human anatomy, physiology and zoology, especially with a clinical or lab component. Clerical courses teach needed skills such as data entry, photocopying, and receiving and sorting mail. Criminal justice courses including proper evidence collection, storage and documentation are helpful as well, for positions in hospital morgues where autopsies are performed and assistants are required, for example, to maintain chain of custody for a body's clothing and personal items.
Sample State Job Description: Forensic Morgue Attendant
The Iowa Department of Administrative Services describes the duties and work of a "forensic morgue attendant." A forensic morgue attendant works for the Iowa Office of the State Medical Examiner and "receives, logs in, stores, and releases bodies that are brought to the ... pathologist for autopsy; cleans autopsy suites, associated examination areas, equipment and cleans/autoclaves instruments for postmortem examinations." The education level required for this position is graduation from a high school or a G.E.D., along with having a valid driver's license.