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The autopsy assistant (diener) can be seen holding the skull of the cadaver.

A diener is a morgue worker responsible for handling, moving, and cleaning the corpse (though, at some institutions dieners perform the entire dissection at autopsy). Dieners are also referred to as morgue attendants, autopsy technicians, and other titles that can vary from region to region. The word is derived from the German word Leichendiener, which literally means corpse servant ("diener" means servant.[1][2]).

A diener performs a number of different tasks in medical schools and morgues. Helping a pathologist with examining and reconstructing cadavers are main tasks performed by a diener.. A diener assists a pathologist or physician during an autopsy completing a variety of tasks such as handling necessary tools and supplies, preparation of the dead body before and after autopsy which includes organ disposal.[3]

In addition to physical work with a pathologist and cadavers, dieners do work such as record keeping of identification and documentation of cadavers in the form of items such as death certificates.[4]

In the American Moravian Church. German: Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine, the men and particularly the women, who serve in various church services, like the Lovefeast, are called "Dieners", from the German title for their office, Saaldiener or "chapel servant".


Education requirements for a diener includes a high school diploma or a GED certificate. It also includes completion of one year of undergraduate coursework composed of at least six semester hours in courses including biology, human anatomy, physiology, zoology, or criminal justice with laboratory work as well. Becoming a diener also includes previous experience working as a laboratory assistant which involved use of surgical tools or grew human anatomy knowledge, instead of any undergraduate course work.[5] Dieners can use their work experience to pursue a degree in similar fields such as forensics, clinical laboratory work, and law enforcement.[6]


In the beginning stages of working as a diener, there are certain training requirements. Formal training requirements for a diener includes manual handling, infection control, and safety procedures. Formal training has two parts: Taught Units and Workplace Competency. The first portion, Taught Units, consists of five different sections. The five sections are Human Anatomy and Physiology for Anatomical Pathology Technologists, Governance and Administration of Mortuary Practices, Health and Safety in the Mortuary, Microbiology and infection Control for Anatomical Pathology Technologists, and Principles of Effective Communication for Anatomical Pathology Technologists. The second portion of formal training, Workplace Competency Units, consists of five sections as well. The five sections are Assist with Post Mortem Examinations, Preparation and Operation of a Mortuary, Prepare for Post Mortem Examinations, Team Working, and Viewing of the Dead. In addition to formal training, dieners learn how to do basic tasks through shadowing a mentor.[4]


In order to be a diener, certain skills are necessary for job performance. Skills a diener needs includes physical strength, reasoning, problem solving, attention to detail, and stress tolerance. In addition to the above skills, integrity/honesty, visual identification, flexibility, and reading are other important skills a diener should possess. Another skill related to the job of a diener is the ability to work with human remains, diagnostic tools, surgical instruments involved in a death investigation. A diener is also required to be knowledgeable of lab and safety techniques including the collection and preservation of evidence and any tasks involving any chemical, biological, microbiological, pathogenic and miscellaneous hazards.[5]

Places of Employment[edit]

A diener can work in different areas. Those areas include hospital morgues and medical schools. When working in a medical school, a diener helps train medical students, interns, and residents on performing an autopsy. Dieners help train medical students, interns, and residents in different autopsy techniques and procedures.[5]

Job Duties[edit]

There are multiple duties within the position and the duties of a diener are typically the same wherever employed. One of the main duties of a diener is to assist in autopsies. One duty in assisting with autopsies includes positioning patients in order for them to be fingerprinted. Another task done as a part of assisting with autopsies involves the removal of organs, tissues, and any fluids (such as blood) from the body of the dead. Fingerprinting patients, removing tissues and organs, drawing and spinning blood samples are done as a part of collecting and preserving forensic evidence, which is a portion of the responsibilities for a diener.[5] In autopsy assisting, a diener can collect and keep record of evidence collected relating to a patient’s death. Evidence collected can come in a variety of forms. Examples of collectable evidence includes any body tissues, slides, radiographs, and any on-scene evidence gathered. A diener also performs tasks such as x-rays (bodily and dental) and developing and evaluating films from x-rays as a part of record keeping. The record keeping of any form of evidence examined in an autopsy by a diener is later used in the determination of the cause of death. In addition to evidence collection and record keeping, a diener has the task of explaining the process of an autopsy in entirety to other employees, law enforcement and others interested, such as family members of the dead.[5] Also, a diener performs other minimal tasks such as checking inventory for necessary equipment and supplies regularly and places orders for any equipment or supplies as necessary. In addition to performing inventory related tasks, a diener will also clean radiological and medical equipment, as well as inspecting equipment for any issues.[5]


There is a number of different hazards involved with being a diener. There is approximately six different types of hazards that a diener is at risk for: mechanical, sharp force, electrical, chemical, radiation, and infection.[7] Mechanical hazards categorize harm such as back injury from activity such as transporting cadavers.[7] Sharp force hazards categorize any bodily harm from the use of tools and equipment such as scalpels and needles which resulting in cuts or punctures. Electrical hazards encompass any potential harm in the form of shock from the use of equipment like saws or defibrillators.[7] Chemical hazards include harm from the use of a variety of chemicals used in the autopsy process such as cyanide and formaldehyde.[7] Radiation hazards are related to any exposure from performing x-rays. Infection hazards are due to the potential that a cadaver is infected with any communicable disease.[7]

Promotion Opportunities[edit]

A diener can also be promoted to different positions within the mortuary and forensic areas of practice. Dieners can advance to positions such as a forensic morgue technician, and complete tasks of higher difficulty and mainly works with a forensic pathologist, over a general pathologist. Dieners can also be promoted to supervisory positions based upon the gain of supervisor and administrative skills.[6]


The salary for a diener varies based upon education, experience, employer, and employment location (i.e.: city or state of employment). The salary is typically between $25,000 and $38,000 annually.[6]


  1. ^ University of Chemnitz. Dictionary De - En. http://dict.tu-chemnitz.de/dings.cgi?o=3021;service=deen;iservice=de-en;query=Diener. Accessed on: March 31, 2007.
  2. ^ LEO GmbH Dictionary/Wörterbuch. URL: http://dict.leo.org/ende?lp=ende&p=/oHL..&search=Diener. Accessed on: March 31, 2007.
  3. ^ Management, U.S. Office of Personnel (1961). "Position Classification Standard for Autopsy Assistant Series" (PDF). Retrieved Feb 22, 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "A Career as an Anatomical Pathology Technologist.". APT Careers. Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Forensic Autopsy Technician" (PDF). Forensic Autopsy Technician. Retrieved Feb 15, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c Echaore-McDavid, Susan; McDavid, Richard A. (2010-04-21). Career Opportunities in Forensic Science. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781438110721. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Wetli, Charles V. (Aug 2001). "Autopsy Safety" (PDF). Laboratory Medicine. 32 (8). Retrieved Feb 22, 2016.