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What is a Mortician?

The main goal of a mortician is to honor the life of a deceased person. Secondarily, they help the family to celebrate their life. Because of the special niche into which their work falls, morticians may also act as counselors for those grieving their loss and they may also recommend grief counseling for off-time deaths.

For people who are interested in a mortician’s career, a degree in funeral service is necessary. A two-year degree from a community college or trade school allows students to take a large step toward their goal of becoming a funeral service manager. When they become licensed, they are qualified to work in a funeral director or arrangement position. They may also be eligible to help embalm deceased bodies—or they may choose to work in a medical examiner’s office.

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What Does a Mortician Do?

Morticians should be ready to take on almost any type of task—when a loved one has died, the family may be in no shape to consider, let alone act on all of the chores that need to be done to get a funeral service set up and running efficiently. Some of the tasks may include preparing the obituary notices for the newspapers, helping the family to make the choice between burial or cremation, helping them chose an urn or casket, making arrangements for pallbearers and clergy, embalming the body or arranging the cremation, suggesting grief counseling for the family and friends, etc.

While it isn’t necessary for a new mortician to have prior experience in working with grieving families or making final arrangements, they must be able and willing to face the difficult realities of this position. For this reason, it’s helpful to be able to handle the grief and other emotions of grieving that may overwhelm others.

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Where Do Morticians Work?

Morticians, funeral directors, funeral assistants, and embalmers can all find work in a funeral home. The funeral home may be owned by the family operating it and, if this is the case, they may hire family members before they hire other people to fill positions.

Working with the body of the deceased means the mortician or embalmer has to prepare the body for either embalming or cremation; this depends on what the person decided on before their death or the family may make the decision. Part of their education includes courses in embalming. Because they work with hazardous chemicals, they must comply with federal regulations. The mortician and their assistants will dress the deceased, arrange them in their casket and work on their hair and makeup - all part of the restorative techniques used to make the body look more natural. If the person chose cremation, then the mortician places their ashes into a container. This may be a plain cardboard box or an urn; again, depending on the family’s wishes.

Why a Career as a Mortician?

For a student interested in working as a mortician, they need to complete their education, take their state board licensing exam, then find a funeral home where they want to work. Funeral homes may be owned by a family, which gives them the freedom to make their own decisions regarding staffing the mortuary.

Most workdays for a funeral director are filled with activity and responsibilities. When a family has asked the funeral home to handle all of the arrangements for the cremation or burial of their loved one, they’ll have a long list of duties, which may begin with preparing the obituary. They also rely on funeral arrangers to help make arrangements for clergy and pallbearers; for burials, they schedule the opening and closing of the grave; for cremations, they coordinate with the crematorium. They and their staff prepare all sites for every service, arrange the transportation for the body and mourners, offer emotional support to family and other survivors, send paperwork to the state government so that they can issue a death certificate, embalm the body to stop its decay before burial, and more.

The average annual salary for morticians begins at $53,000 and the average hourly wage is $27 per hour. These specialists must be well-versed in safety procedures as they work with deceased bodies. Federal regulations dictate how they prepare bodies for burial, especially since they can be exposed to contagious diseases. Becoming a mortician requires that you be comfortable working with dead bodies, but you must also be able to offer comfort to families – something you’ll need to have as an intrinsic quality since job training is unlikely to teach you empathy.

How to Become a Mortician

What are the Requirements?

Different states have set different requirements for morticians to satisfy. However, morticians in every state should satisfy a minimum set of requirements. Funeral directors and funeral service workers are generally required to be at least 21 years old. They may be required to complete an accredited mortuary science degree program, pass their state’s national board exam, and serve an apprenticeship, which will give them practical experience. These apprenticeships often last between one to three years, depending on the state where the student is living.

Accreditation of the mortuary science program you choose is nearly always mandatory. Future students can find information about this accreditation by checking out the website of the mortuary science programs they are interested in; they should look for verification of programmatic accreditation by the American Board of Funeral Service Education. If the program isn’t accredited, this may stop the student’s plans to become a mortician in their tracks. It’s not a step you want to skip.

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GED or High School Diploma/Associate Degree

While a student is still in high school or enrolled in a GED program, they are able to begin their unofficial training. As long as they live in a state that doesn’t require a college degree to become a mortician, then this path may lead to the student finding an entry-level position where they can gain hands-on experience with a variety of potential employers.

However, this requires the student to be persistent in finding a funeral home that will hire a completely untrained job candidate. The student may be able to convince the funeral home director by earning their GED or high school diploma. Once they have the GED certificate or diploma, the prospective apprentice will be able to show the funeral home owner or director that they are ready and willing to begin training.

The second pathway for someone who is interested in this career is to enroll in an associate degree program at a technical college; several educational programs across the country are available. There, they are exposed not only to lectures but also to restorative art labs, state-of-the-art embalming labs, merchandise selection, an arrangement conference room and funeral service chapel, and more where they put their learning into practice.

Mortician Apprenticeship and Certifications

  • Apprenticeships:
    While apprenticeships aren’t as common as they used to be, they are still options for future morticians. A few funeral industry careers do require apprenticeships in their licensing requirements. The supervision of a licensed funeral director is also required for the apprentice to be fully licensed.
  • Certifications for Funeral Planning:
    The learning for future and current funeral directors doesn’t end once they earn their licenses. They may need to periodically renew their licenses so they can continue to function in this profession; this requirement depends on the rules in the state where you choose to practice. Before a mortician or funeral director can be employed or continue their employment, they may be required to earn certifications specific to their career role by passing a certification exam; holding a provisional license would allow them to work before taking their exam.
  • Certifications Available:
    Certifications are granted for professionals who will be doing the same work, but they may be known by different names in different states. For instance, Virginia’s license is a Funeral Service License while Wisconsin calls it Licensed Funeral Director. Other licenses include Certified Crematory Operator, Certified Funeral Service Practitioner and Certified Preplanning Consultant. Before earning certifications, funeral directors are required to earn credits in multiple categories: formal education, academic service, and professional service.
  • Specialties:
    Some funeral directors may choose to earn specialized certifications, such as Certified Funeral Celebrant (CFC) or NFDA Arranger, who helps funeral directors benefit from the arrangement process during meetings with families. This includes creating unique services if families choose cremation. Certified Grief Counselor: this certification comes from the American Institute of Health Care Professionals and allows funeral directors to help families come to terms with their grief, as well as teaching them how to mourn the loss of their loved ones in healthier ways.

    Professional roles vary from state to state. Some states also require people interested in funeral service careers to earn degrees from mortuary science programs. Those who are seeking funeral director careers should already have experience from a previous funeral home. They will have to have attended mortuary school and obtained training to qualify for a job in this area. Training lasts for one to two years and consists of informal training alongside an experienced mortician. They also need on-the-job training in the specific role they will fill. In 49 of the 50 states licensure is mandatory, whereas a voluntary certification program is offered in Colorado.

Continuing Education

The amount of experience on the job and level of education both contribute to higher annual pay and positions with more responsibility and leadership for mortuary practitioners. At the beginning of their career, with less than 1 year of experience, a mortician may earn an average annual salary of $46,000. In their early career (1 to 4 years of experience), morticians earn an average salary of $44,000. The mid-career mortician (5 to 9 years of experience) earns an average annual salary of $47,000.

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The experienced mortician (10 to 19 years) may earn an average annual salary of $60,000. And finally, the late-career mortician, who has more than 20 years of experience, may earn an average salary of $52,000. Location will also play a role in the differences in pay for morticians. In Los Angeles, they earn 13% less than the mortician working in Philadelphia may earn.

Additional Resources for Morticians

Professional Organizations

Students in mortuary schools, as well as professional morticians may benefit from one or more professional organizations. These organizations do exist, and there are several available for different specializations in the field. For instance, cremation professionals have an organization, funeral directors who serve specific religions or faiths can choose a Jewish or Catholic association, the Department of Veterans Affairs also has an association.

  • National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA)

    The mission of NFDA is to support professionals in the funeral industry. To achieve this goal, NFDA provides its members the critical information and resources they need, as well as innovative tools and resources so they can carry out their daily duties, serving bereaved families.

  • Catholic Cemetery Conference (CCC)

    CCC has committed to offering a forum for the discussion and offering of information regarding all phases of Catholic cemetery development, operation, and maintenance. CCC also helps Catholic cemetery personnel to improve cemetery services in their Archdioceses and Dioceses.

  • American Society of Embalmers (ASE)

    ASE was created to make known and promote excellence in the most current practice of mortuary arts and sciences. Among these, the society works to establish and promote ethical standards between colleagues in the mortuary profession.

Salary and Job Outlook

Annually, funeral directors can expect to earn $49,000 in base salary. Their early-career earnings are $33,000 and their late-career earnings are closer to $72,000. Funeral directors work closely with family and friends of the deceased and it may be the responsibility of the funeral director and their staff to make all arrangements for the service and memorial for the family members, working within mortuary law. As funeral directors confer with family members on various details, they may become close to them. Some individuals and their families prefer to pre-plan details of funerals; over the years, this option has become more and more popular. People who are making decisions about their funerals choose to take care of these details while they are still healthy and able to make sound decisions.

Between 2019 and 2029, the overall employment of funeral service workers is expected to fall by four percent. A major factor for this decline is that families of the deceased are turning more and more to cremation; this service isn’t as costly and doesn’t require as many employees as a traditional burial.

Similar Careers

  • Embalmer:
    The average annual salary of an embalmer is $39,000. This professional often works for a private funeral home. They should have a bachelor’s degree in a related field and hold an embalming license. They work on the human body, injecting preservative chemicals so the body won’t decompose. They also dress, style, and apply makeup to the body.
  • Mortician:
    Morticians earn an average annual salary of $50,000. Like embalmers, they prepare bodies for either burial or cremation. They have often completed associate degree programs from community colleges or have completed apprenticeships. They prepare bodies after death, disinfect them, drain the blood, and embalm. For cremations, they will establish the date of cremation, order the urn, and arrange for the ashes to be sent to the family.
  • Customer Service Supervisor:
    On average, customer service supervisors earn $52,000 annually. This professional oversees the customer service team, ensuring that customers are satisfied with the attention and services they receive. The supervisor must lead and motivate their customer service representatives and provide feedback, guidance, and appropriate training. They must be familiar with the company’s services and products.
  • Operations Manager:
    Annually, an operations manager earns $67,000. They are responsible for managing the company’s production of goods and or services. They may be responsible for more than one department, such as manufacturing, purchasing, or warehousing. They ensure the company’s operations are running smoothly. Funeral suppliers might need these specialists more than funeral homes themselves.
  • Administrative Services and Facilities Managers:
    The entry-level education for this position is a bachelor’s degree. These professionals often have less than five years of on-the-job training. Between 2019 and 2029, the job outlook shows an expectation for 6% growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a mortician do?

A mortician is responsible for the funeral process from obituary to suggesting grief counseling for families and everything in between. They help arrange the funeral service, prepare the burial or cremation, and make arrangements for pallbearers and clergy.

How much do morticians make?

The average salary for a mortician is $58,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How long does it take to become a mortician?

The requirements to become a mortician will vary by state. In some states, you can become a mortician with a highs school diploma but most states require at least a certificate.

What skills make a good mortician?

A mortician needs to have knowledge of ethics and laws as well as good business and time-management skills. They need to be excellent at communication, have compassion, and good interpersonal skills.

What is the job outlook for a mortician?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mortician careers are expected to grow by 4% from 2020 to 2030.

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