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This article was written on 27 Feb 2015, and is filled under Medicine, Museums and Galleries, Science.

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Carla Valentine: Pathology museum curator

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Carla Valentine is a qualified Anatomical Pathology Technologist (Mortuary Technician or ‘Mortician’).  She’s carried out autopsies including CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) work and other high risk cases like SARS, Swine Flu and CJD. In her spare time she studied Forensic Anthropology and Archaeology which led her to excavate plague graves in Venice and WWI graves in Belgium.

Carla’s now the Technical Curator of Barts Pathology Museum, restoring the 5000 anatomical pots to their former glory and teasing stories from the dead. She organises events to showcase the collection, teach students at the Academy of Forensic Medical Sciences, and conserve anatomical specimens every day.

She’s even found time to set up Dead Meet, a dating site for professionals working in the death industry. 

We live in an age where many of us have little or no contact with death for most of our lives, so we were fascinated to hear from Carla about the reality of working around human remains.
OM: Can you describe an average day at work?
CV: An average day at work for me can include anything from filming for a documentary that requires a medical backdrop to spending the whole day at my computer perhaps writing something for our website or organising events.
I think on average I tend to start the day the same whatever comes along later: arrive at work around 8:30am, make coffee and check my e-mails so they can be dealt with by 9am, then go and check on any pots I’ve been working on in the workshop. Much of my time here is spent cataloguing the specimens, repairing them and organising them then researching their backgrounds as well as preparing lectures for teaching medical students or younger children about the collection. Any extra things like preparing for evening events comes in the afternoons and if I don’t have an event I head to the gym!

OM: Have you always wanted to be a pathology museum curator ?
CV: I haven’t, but I have always wanted to work in pathology. I was an Anatomical Pathology Technologist (APT) before this and worked in UK mortuaries for 8 years. After a while becoming a senior meant coming out of the post-mortem room and realm of Pathology in general and going deeper into paperwork and organisation – I never wanted that. I also have a love of medical history and literature so the Pathology Museum for me was a way to connect all those things.

OM: What was the hardest part about becoming a pathology museum curator?
CV: In all honesty it wasn’t hard for me in general because I didn’t know this was the perfect job for me until I saw it advertised and got it! But it was the years of experience from before, as an APT which got me here. For example, I had no idea I’d be good at arranging events but I used to arrange baby funerals at one of the hospitals I’d worked at and it taught me how to deal with that pressure and how to be organised.

The hardest part about becoming an APT was all the volunteer work. It’s not a job you just ‘fall’ into. I wanted to do it since I was around 10 years old and everything I did and studied was to prepare me for it. When many of my friends did a gap year and went travelling I stayed in England and volunteered with an embalmer. During my degree I volunteered at the mortuary during the day and I went to relevant conferences with my meagre student earnings simply to get my foot in the door.

It paid off, and it was the most rewarding job I’d ever had until I went to Barts Pathology Museum.

OM: And what’s the best part of the job?
CV: There are so many amazing aspects to this job it’s difficult to choose the best one, but repairing practically invisible specimens from 200 years ago and then being able to share the story with people today is incredible. It’s also rewarding to engage with the public and make them think about pathology in a new way, whether it’s at one of the events I’ve organised or on my YouTube channel.

OM: Do you feel you’re treated differently in your industry because you’re a woman?
CV: I haven’t so far but then I’ve not been a man to compare it with! I’ve been treated fairly well and I’ll never know if being a man would have improved that or not.
I certainly surprised a few undertakers when I first became an APT because they came to the mortuary door expecting ‘Igor’ and got a young woman. However, by the time I left the profession I was in a team of 6 girl APTs and that was common. There were also more female undertakers too.

OM: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given? And what other advice would you give to anyone looking to become an X ? What qualifications and experience do you need?
CV: The advice I’d give to people hoping to work in this type of industry is to get some volunteer experience, particularly if you want to become an APT – it’s not like on CSI and you may find it different from what you expect.
To become an APT you have to get on the job training so you have to become a trainee APT and there’s a lot of competition. See the AAPTUK website for information.

OM: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in the workplace or in your career?
CV: I haven’t made any! This is the kind of job where a ‘mistake’ is called a Sudden Untoward Incident and can lead to being fired! A personality trait required for it is meticulousness.

OM: What does success mean to you?
CV: Reaching as many people as possible and getting them interested in pathology rather than just thinking it’s a career choice for ‘weirdos’.

I’d also like people to be aware they have more say than they think they have when it comes to washing and dressing their own dead and being involved in the funerals of their deceased (once any necessary examinations have been done). I’m hoping my dating and networking site for death-industry professionals might get bigger and include non-professional members who can put questions to qualified members.

Success is also getting people to engage with the collection I curate at Barts, and the book I’m writing about it being a ‘best-seller’. Fingers crossed!

Resources:

Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology

Tweet Carla here.

Photo by Gemma Day

One Comment

  1. Bobby
    17th October 2016

    This is one awesome post.Thanks Again. Want more.

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