Katie Tomkins

Mortuary Technician

Katie's job title is Anatomical Pathology Technologist and Mortuary and Post-mortem Services Manager at West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

What I do

I care for deceased people. I also work with pathologists to assist during post-mortems, and I liaise with police and coroners. I also look after family members who may wish to visit deceased relatives.

Mortuary table

How I became a technician

A typical day in my
working life

The advice I would give to a younger person

Nowadays, when trainee jobs come up, they are highly sought after. So, it is about doing your homework and understanding the role. There are things you can do that show you are willing and the ideal candidate. Use resources on the internet, such as the Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology, which describe what the job is. Undertakers sometimes take on work experience students. We are heavily regulated by the Human Tissue Authority, so if you want to impress at interview, drop that in and it will put you above some people. Education-wise, although biology and anatomy are not essential, it will give you a head start. Don’t automatically think forensics though, because although we do marry up on some things, we are not the same thing. My advice would be to contact as many mortuaries as you can and ask for advice.

A little more about
my everyday role

The most exciting thing I’ve achieved so far in my job

I have been involved in pandemic planning for years and everyone always assumed it was going to be a slow build thing. I remember the first phone call to say, “You have your first COVID death”. I have a strong memory of two of my senior managers standing in front of me saying, “Oh, it looks like you’ve got everything under control”, but underneath I was like a swan paddling frantically under the waterline. COVID was scary at the beginning because we weren’t sure how infectious it was after death and so everyone had concerns about staff, family and friends. Because it was such an unprecedented situation, I was getting lots of people from within my local area, such as undertakers, other mortuaries and colleagues asking, “What protocols are you following?”, so I was trying to help other people as well as managing my immediate team. I have a vivid memory of getting a call on a Saturday night saying, “Your mortuary is full, Kate”. So, I assembled the team and I just remember them looking at me (their eyes just above their masks) asking, “What are we going to do?” In some respects, I had to make it up as I went along. My team members are quite young in terms of the profession, with five years, two years, one year, and just one month’s experience. So, they were all looking to me to guide them and lead them. I had senior managers asking me what the mortuary was doing. It was very difficult and not like anything I had experienced before. I think I made mistakes and could have done some things better, but we managed to keep the whole team safe from COVID. We looked after everybody to the best of our ability and that has been seen and rewarded, not just verbally, but we have won some awards from the community for the part we played. So, we did okay.

The next steps in my career journey

I never thought I would get this far, to be honest. I have some health issues, which mean I can’t do post-mortems anymore, which is a real shame, so I am desk-based. I love this job so much and to do anything else would never really compare. It’s not just a job for me – it is a passion.

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