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What Does a Morgue Attendant Do?

By Susan Abe
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A morgue attendant, also known as a morgue assistant, works in a hospital or municipal morgue under the direction and supervision of a pathologist. Assistants who hold similar positions in funeral homes are almost always studying toward a degree in mortuary science and work under the direction and supervision of the facility's funeral director. A morgue assistant or attendant often holds certifications as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or has experience as a general medical assistant without patient contact. A familiarity with human anatomy and medical terminology — garnered from CNA education or prior experience — is generally expected in the position. A morgue attendant admits and discharges bodies from the morgue, performs housekeeping duties, and assists pathologists in autopsy procedures, as directed.

Although some online colleges suggest that a two to four year education from one of their institutions is necessary to become a morgue attendant, governmental and objective sources indicate that the position can be obtained with a high school diploma and, usually, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) certification. A morgue attendant is one of the many positions that can be held by medical assistants, whether or not the position is one requiring certification. Whether the attendant works in a hospital morgue or a municipal morgue is another factor that may determine the type of experience and education required.

A hospital morgue attendant admits bodies from other floors of the hospital after death has been pronounced by a physician and confirms the body's identity by comparing the hospital wristband to the hospital chart. The body is transferred to the morgue storage unit and the attendant completes any necessary clerical work to document the admission. The morgue assistant releases bodies to funeral homes and completes the necessary paperwork to document these discharges. Morgue attendants also assist the pathologist during autopsies by helping to transfer the body to the autopsy table; providing tools, equipment and supplies as requested; and sealing and labeling collected tissue samples for transfer to the laboratory department. After the procedure, the attendant is responsible for cleaning the autopsy table and area, properly disposing of potentially biohazardous material and sterilizing surgical autopsy equipment.

Municipal morgues require their attendants to perform similar tasks. The major difference between a hospital versus a municipal morgue is that an autopsy is not optional in the latter facility. A municipal morgue attendant will therefore have more autopsy-related duties. When a death may be related to a crime, the collection, labeling, documentation and disposition of all material obtained during the autopsy must be carefully and correctly recorded.

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Discussion Comments

By Deadcutie — On Jun 21, 2020

It’s hard to force autopsy technicians and assistants to hold a certification or degree when a coroner (the guy who actually does the cutting) is not required to have any medical knowledge. Strange, but true. if you live under a coroner system, the guy cutting up Uncle Harry could be a used car salesman.

Here all you need is a high school diploma and a strong stomach. They would like some medical experience such as an orderly, but it’s not a hard requirement. Everything you do will be on the job training and anything that warrants technical handling such as rape kits, histology samples, and toxicology tests are done under supervision.

By anon993242 — On Nov 01, 2015

I am actually considering this as a job I would like to do. It was really interesting and definitely helped me out to do more research on this job.

By anon925004 — On Jan 09, 2014

I didn't know that CNAs were able to do this job! Love this idea. It takes special people to do this job!!

By Azuza — On Sep 19, 2012

@Pharoah - The medical field is pretty big, so a lot of times people have a lot of different options once they get a certification and/or some experience. I think it's really great, which is why I'm looking into starting a career in that field.

Plus, jobs in the medical field (especially that or a morgue attendant) are always in demand. People aren't going to stop dying any time soon, so there will always be a need for people to do work related to the process that comes after death.

By Pharoah — On Sep 19, 2012

I had no idea certification as a nursing assistant or medical assistant could prepare someone to work as a morgue attendant. I knew CNA's had a lot of options like home care, working in a nursing home, or working in various parts of a hospital. It looks like CNA's have more options than I thought.

By sunnySkys — On Sep 18, 2012

@starrynight - I don't think I would want to work around dead bodies myself. The whole idea creeps me out, and I don't think I would even want to see an autopsy, let alone help with one and clean up afterwards.

However, thank goodness some people feel differently, because we do need people to do these jobs. Not everyone is squeamish about death and blood and things like that. I have a friend who works for a tissue bank harvesting corneas from (deceased) donors, and she loves her job!

She feels really fulfilled by her work, and working around dead bodies doesn't phase her at all.

By starrynight — On Sep 17, 2012

This sounds like a horrible job! I thought being a morgue attendant would require mainly administrative work, like filling out forms and stuff. But it sounds like they do that as well as things related to autopsies, including the clean up! No thank you!

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