The forensic autopsy as a teaching tool: Attitudes and perceptions of undergraduate medical students at the University of Pretoria, South Africa

  • L du Toit-Prinsloo
  • G Pickworth
  • G Saayman


Background. Numerous articles have been published on the use of autopsies in training medical students in anatomy and different branches of pathology. Some authors have described the emotional response of students who attend such postmortem sessions. Forensic pathology is an important subdivision of pathology. In some countries undergraduate medical students are expected to attend postmortem examinations on persons who died from traumatic causes.
Objective. To determine the attitudes and perceptions of 5th-year medical students with regard to forensic postmortem examinations at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
Methods. A questionnaire was voluntarily completed by medical students on the last day of the practical rotation.
Results. The overall rating of the practical rotation was 82%. The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis indicated the following as strengths: record keeping, legislation review and traumatology description; as weaknesses: emotional trauma and nightmares; as opportunities: the attendance of autopsies; and as threats: physical dangers.
Conclusion. The current study was similar to international studies with regard to students’ emotional response to attending autopsies. The autopsy remains a valuable teaching tool for undergraduate students. Emotional support is currently available for all students to assist them in overcoming their fear of attending forensic autopsy sessions.


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