How long does it take to perform an autopsy?

toe tag

Columbia College students get behind the scenes look at today's hottest jobs in career roundtable.

How long does it take to perform an autopsy? Is it like it is on TV? How do you handle it? When do you start work?

Ryan Yager '07, bachelor's degree in criminal justice, who works in the Boone County, Mo., Medical Examiner's Office, deftly fielded questions such as these with ease in a lunchtime career roundtable presented by the Columbia College Student Support Services program. Also on the menu was Than Som '05, computer science, an Agile XP developer with CARFAX, the czar of vehicle history reports; Jackie Johnson, who graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in biochemistry and now works for the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab; and Teresa Clerkin '07, forensic science, a deputy sheriff with Callaway County, Mo.

Nearly 30 students crammed the SSS lounge not just for the free subs but to learn things like:
  • "I graduated on a Saturday and was on my way to the police academy on a Monday" because of her Columbia College degree and determination, said Clerkin.
  • "I'm already a criminalist III [the highest rank achievable without supervisory duties], and I've only been there four years... I use my degree every day. I'm very happy" working in the crime lab, said Johnson.
  • There is no dress code at CARFAX. "We wear T-shirts and jeans. It's really a relaxed atmosphere. We get in trouble if we don’t take breaks!" said Som.

And what would they have done differently in college, given a chance?
  • "Be more active socially. I was a good studier, but not so social," said Clerkin.
  • "Not work as much!" said Yager, who said he worked through college.

Teresa Clerkin '07, Ryan Yager, '07,  Jackie Johnson and Than Som '05
Yager then detailed a step-by-step procedure -– minus the gory details, of course -- for an autopsy, adding that the Boone County Medical Examiner's Office handled all Boone County homicides, suicides and almost every child under age 16 for a total of 402 autopsies from 37 Missouri counties in 2008, 101 so far this year alone.

Oh, and to answer the initial questions: A typical autopsy takes from an hour and a half to two hours; it is indeed in some ways like it is on TV and in some ways not at all; deceased kids get to him, hardened cops and detectives alike; and he begins an autopsy around 9:30 a.m.

"You have to have a good sense of humor to cope," Yager said. "It's all in how you release it, enjoy your life."