At a time where the work of a number of colleagues is being highlighted in the Channel 5 series Cause of Death, Sophie McPhee has recently become a fully qualified Anatomical Pathology Technologist (APT).
APTs help pathologists examine a body to work out the cause of death, and Sophie, at 23, has recently earned her Level 3 Diploma from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), despite the complications of COVID-19 affecting her course.
Sophie explained: “During the COVID pandemic, it was difficult to complete the course around increased workload. The course is held in Hartlepool face to face but because of COVID I only went over once, so we had to do it all over Teams.
“The course was meant to be 18 months, but because of the pandemic, it became about two, two and a half years.
“It is better face to face as I feel like you can get more support than online, where it was just that a bit harder work because you'd have to email if you wanted any advice or support, which can take longer for replies back because there wasn’t just me on the course.
“So it was not easy because of how long it had taken but not majorly, then after the course has been completed doing assignments, exams, portfolio, you have to get your portfolio externally approved, so there were delays with that because of COVID as well.”
It was well worth the wait, however: “There are not many APTs around - I'm not sure on the certain amount but there aren't that many as you don’t need a big team.”
“When I started my apprenticeship, I was 17. So I couldn't come down to the mortuary until I was 18.
“And then started doing the rotational role (between pathology and mortuary) for about two / three years. And then I've been full time nearly two years now.”
So what does the role encompass?: “As an APT I assist pathologists during invasive post-mortems which includes homicides, RTCs, suicides and other kinds of traumatic deaths. Post-mortems are requested by the coroner, Dr James Adeley, who you might have seen on the telly recently on Channel 5. We also release patients to funeral directors, facilitate viewings for families, and help run the PMCT service – the first of its kind in the country.
“I didn’t grow up ever wanting to be an APT, I just fell in into it really.
“I started with the Trust as an apprentice in the Cellular Pathology labs, which lead to a rotational role to help out in the mortuary. Soon after a Trainee job became available which I was successful in applying for.
“When I came to the mortuary, it was interesting, we've got a small team, and we’ve built good working relationships. So, it made me lean more towards working in the mortuary than the pathology labs”
So what is the future for a 23-year-old APT?: “Well, there is a level four course I can do so when it becomes available, I'll do that one too, as it’s more specialised and can lead towards more responsibility working in the mortuary.”
And will Sophie be tuning in to Cause of Death?: “Yeah, it's really good, the team I work with, the PMCT team and the coroner's officers come across really well, and everyone can have more of an idea of what we actually do from the programme.
“People walk past a mortuary sign and I think there's always a degree of fascination.
“But then there's a degree of ‘I don't really want to know what happens’.
Some families will come in and they don't know what to expect or, like on TV, some shows make things look a bit grubby and dark so it can give people the wrong impression, but it's not. It's nice and clean as it should be.”