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.