Autopsy training programs. To right a wrong

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1995 Mar;119(3):289-91.


Autopsy rates have decreased from a peak of 41.1% in 1964 to less than 5% in many hospitals today. This disaster has stimulated many symposia and articles on the values of the autopsy, the reasons for its fall, and possible remedies. The many benefits of the autopsy include quality assessment of clinical diagnoses; added knowledge about new diseases, environmental hazards, and genetic disorders; and evaluation of new technologies. The autopsy is also a powerful educational tool. The main reasons for its decline include fear of medical litigation and professional discreditation due to unexpected findings, the unsubstantiated notion that technologic advances have rendered the autopsy obsolete, cost-cutting pressures, and inadequate compensation for pathologists. This essay addresses a remedy for another major contributing problem: clinicians' frustration at poorly performed autopsies due to defective training of autopsy pathologists. Requirements for excellent autopsy training programs include an intensive review of anatomy applied to dissection methods, including sequences of dissection; direct supervision of early cases by a competent and responsible senior pathologist at the autopsy table, with full responsibility assigned to the trainee only after completion of this apprenticeship; review of all cases with clinical staff at regularly scheduled gross organ conferences; and a sustained commitment by department heads to make necessary programmatic changes to meet these standards. Pathologists must demonstrate pursuit of excellence in performance of the autopsy before other ambitious elements are sought for its revival.

MeSH terms

  • Autopsy*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / standards
  • Pathology / education