Losing someone close to you is never easy, and it’s the role of the mortician to make the grieving and farewell process a little easier for you and your loved ones.
Being a mortician requires taking on a variety of responsibilities, ranging from the technical elements of preserving bodies through to supporting and looking after the deceased’s family. Becoming a mortician might seem like a strange or a morbid job to want to do, but those working in this field enjoy the responsibilities it affords, as well as its focus on looking after people.
If this sounds like a career you would like to explore, then read on to discover how to become a mortician.
Sometimes called undertakers, morticians typically work from a funeral home and are responsible for the end-to-end funerary process. This will typically begin with meeting and greeting the bereaved family, taking them through the funeral options available, and organizing the funeral and related arrangements.
They will also be in charge of the coffin and transporting the deceased and their relatives to where the funeral is taking place. Due to the different funeral services, memorial stones, and caskets or coffins available, the job will inevitably involve some selling and merchandising, so morticians must be tactful and respectful salespeople.
Morticians are also responsible for the care of the body. This will include receiving it and overseeing the preservation process, called “embalming”. They then need to dress the body and prepare it with makeup, ready for any last farewells.
Finally, they’re responsible for ensuring all paperwork and formalities relating to death and burial or cremation is followed. This might include assisting with the death certificate and ensuring the body is being prepared in a safe and legal manner.
Here are the main responsibilities of a mortician:
- Support and counsel the family and friends of the deceased throughout the arrangements of the funeral
- Collect the body and prepare it for the funeral in terms of both embalming and presentation
- Assist with funeral arrangements, such as transportation, coffin preparation, and liaising with the location where the service will be held
- Understand all religions and cultures, with a view to preparing services that respect a variety of beliefs and customs
- Prepare and file death certificates, and ensure compliance with all areas of healthcare and the law
- Provide post-funeral support such as billing and customer service
Being a mortician is a job like no other, and it comes with a unique working environment, as well as other special considerations. This section takes you over this work environment, as well as the hours, occupational hazards and job satisfaction of a mortician.
Morticians will typically be based in a funeral home, where they keep an office as well as a lounge area where they receive the relatives and friends of the deceased. There will also be a room where bodies are prepared, and maybe a display where people can view memorial options and coffins that can be purchased.
Morticians will also be present at the place of worship where the funeral will take pace, as well as at the cemetery or gravesite. They will also be on the road, traveling with the body to these locations, as well as making house calls to the families of the deceased.
There are often time constraints with this type of work, as funerals in many cultures need to be arranged hastily, quite soon after the death. Morticians will have to manage many different funerals all at the same time, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, ensuring all the small details are correctly remembered and assigned.
Morticians will have atypical working hours, and it’s not uncommon for them to work in excess of 40 hours a week.
Whereas most of the job can and will be completed during office hours, morticians need to be on call for grieving families, both early and late in the day, accommodating appointments out of hours and at short notice, given the urgency of funeral arrangements.
Catching up on administrative work or preparing the body might also take place late in the evening after clients have left.
Despite a large part of the job being the handling of bodies, these would have been prepared carefully by medical professionals before they reach the funeral home, so the risk of disease or infection is very low.
Morticians might get upset from time to time in their role, but they’re at less risk of being deeply emotionally affected by death. Nevertheless, they might suffer from stress or burnout, given the time-sensitive nature of the job. There will be heavy lifting involved with the job as well, which can result in back pains and strains.
Believe it or not, morticians are generally regarded to be a very satisfied group of employees. The role can be stressful and emotionally draining, but morticians will, ultimately, derive a lot of satisfaction from seeing their clients well-cared for and happy with the funeral arrangements. Due to the nature of the job, the work environment will be calm, caring and positive, and this will really suit many people.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for morticians is expected to grow by 9% year-on-year up to 2031. This growth is double the United States’ national average growth for all job categories and equates to around 7,900 new jobs every year.
Such healthy job growth isn’t just being driven by the aging of the population. More and more people are pre-planning their funeral arrangements and are likely to spend more in doing so. This offsets any decline in the employment rate brought about by the preference for cremations, which are often quicker and cheaper.
The average salary for morticians is $56,360 per year ($27.10 per hour), according to the BLS. This salary reflects the challenging responsibilities of a mortician, as well the need for them to have in-depth technical knowledge on how to look after bodies.
Annual wages for morticians generally start at $29,640, but can reach up to $83,550 depending on their level of experience and their employer. Salaries also vary by location, with Delaware being the top-paying state in the US, averaging $79,870. This is followed by the states of Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts at $77,460, $73,920, $71,030 and $70,670, respectively.
Here’s a quick rundown of mortician salaries across the US:
Being a mortician involves a challenging mix of soft skills aimed at looking after people and technical skills regarding the preparation of the body. Here are the top six skills you will need to become a mortician:
- Emotional intelligence: Morticians need to show genuine compassion and care in every interaction. Whereas this is exceptionally important, they also must remain professional and factual when discussing arrangements with relatives.
- Sales and negotiation skills: Funerals can be very costly, and the role of the mortician is to care for their clients while ensuring they’re maximizing their profits. This is a delicate mix and requires careful selling skills.
- Time management skills: Managing funeral services can be complex, and with many different and unique services in the planning stages at any one time, morticians need to carefully manage their time to execute everything to the right standard.
- Preservation skills and techniques: Morticians will be in charge of ensuring the body is embalmed, dressed and presented, ready for the funeral. This will require professional embalming skills, executed in a legally correct way.
- Leadership skills: To prepare for a funeral, morticians will need to lead a team of people with unique responsibilities. This might be engaging engravers, outsourcing embalmers, managing drivers and, in some cases, providing pallbearers for the coffin too.
- Business skills: Funeral homes are often private businesses, and morticians will need to be very hands-on with the accountancy and human resources elements of the job.
So, if you’ve read this far and believe that becoming a mortician is the right job for you, then this next section takes you through the steps you will need to follow to become one.
Step 1: Determine if it’s the right career for you
We often say that it’s important to consider whether your skills and interests are the right match to fulfill any career, but with morticians, this cannot be truer. You need to have a passion for supporting people through very difficult moments in their lives and be okay with talking about death and working with dead bodies. It’s vital to manage your emotions and help clients navigate theirs.
Think about the skills mentioned above: if these align with what you’re good at, and these are skills you like to use, then being a mortician could be a good career fit.
If you’re unsure what this “career fit” looks like and you’re struggling to find the right career for you, then it might be a good idea to take a career test. Our own six-part assessment over at CareerHunter maps out your skills and interests to various careers, and even explains to you how to get started in exploring these best-fit job options.
Step 2: Complete the correct educational requirements
Morticians must be professionally licensed by the National Funeral Directors Association. The license requirements will vary by state, so check their website to understand what is needed, even at educational level.
At the very least, all morticians need to have completed high school education, with a focus on applied science, physics and chemistry. Business studies and English are also useful subjects to have focused on.
Morticians then need to complete at least an associate’s degree in a mortuary science program or funeral service education, accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education, which can also be completed in community colleges. A bachelor’s degree, meanwhile, is preferred by some funeral directors, with the most-aligned subjects being a degree in mortuary science, chemistry, business management or psychology.
Step 3: Complete an apprenticeship
The next step to becoming licensed is to complete an apprenticeship or internship. These practical training programs last between one to three years and are undertaken with the guidance of a licensed funeral director. You can complete your apprenticeship or internship while you’re studying, or after you’ve graduated.
Step 4: Become licensed
Once you’ve completed your practical training, you’ll need to apply for and obtain your funeral director license. This is essential for you to be able to independently work as a mortician.
As mentioned earlier, licensing requirements will vary from state to state, but you’ll typically be required to prove your residency in the US, have a clean criminal record, have completed ABFSE-accredited education, and be 21 years of age or older. There will be an examination to take and, in some states, an interview as well.
Step 5: Complete certifications
Licensed funeral directors and morticians will need to complete accredited courses in subjects related to their work, and will need to earn credits to keep their license. Courses are offered by many organizations, such as the Cremation Association of North America, the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, and the NFDA. You can also attend other informal courses and seminars to keep up with your own personal development.
Becoming a mortician can be a tremendously rewarding job, where you take on a role that is so instrumental in honoring the memory of peoples’ loved ones. The role is tough, stressful and demanding, but it can bring so much joy to other people.
To become a mortician, you’ll need to have a special combination of skills and be aware of the hard work needed to become licensed. Once you have done this, though, you can set up your own funeral home and make your own mark on this vital profession. Good luck!
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