By Georgina Bond, Dissection Technician in the Medical Teaching Unit of the University of Sheffield
When I originally applied to University, I wanted to become a lab scientist, working behind the scenes in hospitals, curing diseases. Unfortunately, a couple of years into my Biology degree, I decided I no longer wanted to take that path. I was lucky to find a Master’s degree that perfectly suited me called Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology. I loved analysing skeletons and finding out their age and sex and looking at their burials to determine their history.
During this course, I was also lucky enough to undertake cadaveric dissections in the lab I now work in. This was my first experience with a cadaver and unlike others, I had no issues whatsoever. It felt natural to me. Once my Masters ended, I was desperate to find a career working with human remains and spent time attending conferences and volunteering at Bart’s Pathology Museum in London.
I was over the moon when I got the job as Technician in the Medical Teaching Unit of the University of Sheffield and I have genuinely loved every day since I started.
Just a technician
Back in February, a clinical scientist that took over the official NHS twitter account tweeted that she did not want to be called a technician because she had “years of experience and knowledge” and wasn’t “just a technician”. This post really got to me. I was angry. Yes, my job title is “Technician” but these days a technician can have a wealth of knowledge and experience and have very important jobs to undertake.
Technician is a very broad term for my role, as I have a huge variety of tasks and roles to undertake that may not necessarily be classed as a Technician’s role. On any one day I could be an embalmer, a counsellor, a teacher, a prosector*, a cleaner or curator. I think that’s what I love most about this job, every single day is different.
*a person who dissects dead bodies for examination or anatomical demonstration
If I had to describe a typical day or as typical as my day could be, it would probably start with the embalming of a new donor. After a few days of phone calls with relatives, doctors and funeral directors, our donors arrive in to the unit first thing and we start the embalming process. Once the embalming has been completed, it’s time to set up for the day’s classes.
In any one week we can see around 800 students in our unit from a variety of courses; Medics, Dentists, Biomedical Scientists, Postgraduate Human Anatomy and Education, Postgraduate Physician’s Associates, Orthoptics, Speech Scientists, Archaeologists and Bioengineers. I help support the dissections by setting up basic disposables and equipment and also answering questions where I can.
Sometimes we also run surgical training courses for Medical professionals so they can practice surgical techniques that they would never have the chance to do on a living person. During some days I may have time to do my own dissecting. As I’m quite new to the role, a lot of my dissecting time is for my own personal knowledge development but sometimes I will complete dissections to create resources for student learning.
I do get a lot of looks when I explain what I do
I do get a lot of looks when I explain what I do and this definitely stems from the stigma surrounding death but I genuinely believe I have the best job in the world. There are obviously days where it can be difficult. I can’t help but get emotional sometimes, especially if I’m talking to upset relatives but I remember this is what the donor wanted, sometimes for decades, and I’m very privileged to be caring for them.
I love learning anatomy and the amount of variation we see makes each dissection class interesting and different. I’m also really lucky to be looking after our 2,500 pathology specimens that were part of an old museum collection, once housed at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Hopefully one day we’ll have our own museum!
The variety of my role keeps me on my toes and allows me to meet lots of different people across the anatomical and medical professions. I hope in the future I will work my way up to Manager of my unit as I have no plans to leave my workplace. I also hope I’ll be able to get more experience teaching anatomy to students.
I’ve never been happier in a role and would encourage anyone interested in body donation or my work to visit my blog. I had the idea for this blog early on in my new role, after hearing many misconceptions about body donations from the public and people in the death industry.