James Lowell – Anatomical Pathology

“When I tell people what I do there are one of two reactions. Either they go all quiet or they can’t stop asking me questions”. Perhaps that’s not caring for the dead.

James never knew such a job existed until he happened to meet the man who was to become his head of department. He thought it sounded interesting and 13 years later, having done his training ‘on the job’, is now Operations Manager in the Directorate of Cellular Pathology at St Thomas’ Hospital London. “We’re there for the deceased. We are their advocates”, says James. He assists during post mortems, undertakes intricate dissections for samples, removes and weighs organs during autopsy and prepares the deceased for viewing by people’s families. Everything he does must be carried out with the utmost respect and dignity.

The other side of his job is working with the bereaved, answering their questions and sorting out the mountain of paperwork needed following a death. For instance, no less than nine Government departments have to be separatley notified of a death. But now James’ team is working on an innovative bereavement notification project which will mean someone like him can work with the bereaved to complete and submit just one simple online form instead.

There are many extraordinary aspects to his job. He occasionally works closely with the police and forensic pathologists in suspicious cases and has been involved with disaster response in London when there are many deaths, setting up temporary mortuaries and helping with identification. He has special training for dealing with hazardous examinations, typically necessary when people have been contaminated with large quantities of ingested toxic chemicals. Working in London also means that he and his team frequently have to liaise with airlines and embassies to assist with the repatriation of people who for example, have died whilst on their trip here.

“All death has its distressing points and you have to have the right psychological make up to do this job but it’s a great job. You really feel that what you are doing is helping bereaved people”.



Profile courtesy of Chief Scientific Officer, Department of Health – Professor Sue Hill