Mortician — initially, it doesn’t seem like the job option for most people. The image often associated with mortician jobs involves dead bodies, a cold room, long hours and more dead bodies — and that easily turns off jobseekers. But preconceived notions about morticians shouldn’t keep you from exploring this career path.
Often a misunderstood profession, being a mortician is a fulfilling job due to the work benefits, the fulfilling role you get when helping a grieving family and the adventures that come with the job. Think of yourself as an executive assistant in the funeral setting. Plus, a mortician’s salary is worth the consideration.
So what does it take to be a mortician? How much can you make on the job? And what are the requirements needed for this career path?
First Things First: What is the Job of a Mortician?
By definition, morticians (also known as undertakers or funeral directors) are people who oversee different aspects of funerals for deceased individuals and their loved ones. Traditionally, morticians only prepare the deceased person’s body for burial. Since funeral homes have started downsizing, however, most morticians also arrange and manage the funeral, as well as interact with the loved ones of the deceased person.
The duties of a mortician vary according to the funeral home’s size, but most morticians are in charge of the following:
- Embalming and preparing the body for private viewing before or during the funeral
- Helping the loved ones prepare for the funeral arrangements.
- Providing information and support about funeral service options to the deceased individual’s family and friends.
- Filing death certificates and other paperwork.
- Conducting funeral services.
- Arranging for the burial or cremation, according to the wishes of the deceased and their loved ones.
Most people think morticians just do the deceased person’s hair and makeup. This is just part of their routine. Typically, morticians do a different job every day. On one day, you may be preparing a body for the burial and on the next, you’re busy preparing the paperwork, working at the funeral service or meeting with the family. If you work in a mortuary, you also clean a lot.
How Much Do Morticians Make?
Since morticians have a lot on their plate, their salaries compensate for their time. Mortician salaries, however, vary according to their level of experience, place of employment and location. Large funeral homes pay morticians more than smaller funeral homes.
The average annual salary of a mortician is $52,650/year but the typical mortician salary ranges from nearly $30,000 to $89,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, morticians earn $27 per hour, which is higher than the median wage for most occupations. This is why if you’re a mortician, you’re in the 10 percent of earners who can make more than $89,000.
Do morticians get paid well? Yes indeed. But before you reach the higher paying bracket of morticians, you need the skills and experience first.
How to Become a Mortician
If you want to venture down this career path, talk to someone in the industry first. Get a scope of the undertaker job. Ask about the education and experience necessary, as well as the daily comings and goings in funeral homes. Remember, funeral homes may seem quiet and somber but these are places that witness grief. If you’re confident you can handle the physical and emotional stress of the job, equip yourself with the proper training.
The steps to becoming a mortician depend on your state’s regulation. Find information for your state by getting in touch with your state’s funeral service boards. Check them out at the National Funeral Directors Association website.
In general, aspiring morticians have two options when it comes to training:
1. Unofficial education and training.
If your state doesn’t require a college education to be a mortician, you can score entry-level positions that offer on-the-job-training. This may seem like the fastest way to start your funeral director career but this path requires persistence in finding a funeral home that is willing to train untrained applicants. If you go down this path, you need to:
- Earn your high school diploma or GED. You don’t need the SATs but a high school diploma helps. Most funeral homes require applicants to at least be a high school graduate. If you do not have a high school diploma, complete your GED preparation classes.
- Work for a funeral home that offers training. While many funeral homes prefer candidates with formal education, some offer training. Check around your local area for establishments that are willing to train you. If you choose this option, be willing to accept any open positions and to do any necessary tasks.
2. Official training programs.
In most states, morticians must have at least an associate’s degree in mortuary science before receiving their license. Currently, the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) offers 57 accredited mortuary science programs. Most of these degree programs are available in community colleges. You’ll need two years to finish your associate’s degree. If you choose to take a bachelor’s degree in mortuary science, you’ll need four years.
There are also two types of official training programs:
- On-campus programs. These programs enable students to complete clinical requirements and coursework in school. Traditional programs have lab hours and set classes, which are offered during the day or evening hours — depending on your schedule.
- Online programs. If you’re working a full-time job, a working student or have a family to care for, mortuary science programs are available online, too. These programs can be completed online but some subjects — such as embalming, restorative arts and clinical — must be completed on campus or an approved facility.
3. Complete an apprenticeship.
Start working with a sponsor ASAP to speed up your training process. Look for a licensed funeral director who offers an apprenticeship per your state’s requirements. If your state requires you to assist in embalming and funerals as part of your apprenticeship, you must submit complete documentation of your tasks (along with your sponsor).
4. Become certified and licensed.
Licensing requirements are different in all states but they typically require applicants to have finished a two-year program in mortuary science. Also, most states require applicants to be at least 21 years old and have served their apprenticeship. In terms of certifications, they are not often required for morticians but getting one can give you a boost in terms of job opportunities and salaries.
Is the Mortician Path for You?
Becoming a mortician is not for the faint of heart. But if are interested in pursuing this career path but wondering if you’re for the job, evaluate yourself.
To be a mortician, you must:
- Be a relational person. Morticians don’t just work for the dead; they often work with the living, too. Morticians work closely with the loved ones of the deceased. Apart from their services, they offer consolation and comfort to those in need, as well as make arrangements for their clients’ wake and funeral.
- Be compassionate and empathetic, especially when clients need it most. As a mortician, you’ll be doubling as a grief counselor. You must be a good listener who is empathetic towards people. This is a difficult time in your clients’ lives; it helps if you can help them through it, too.
- Be organized and good at planning. The mainstay role of morticians is event planning. You must be meticulous with details since your tasks also include arranging day-of services and preparing obituary notices. Apart from working with grieving loved ones, many morticians must also work with clients planning ahead.
- Be OK with working with dead bodies and death, in general. Death is a fearful subject in any conversation. Yet for some morticians, death becomes a part of their routine. As a mortician, you’ll be working with the deceased most of the time, preparing them for the funeral. A pro-tip: do not fear the bodies you work with; instead, pay them your respects.
- Be physically and emotionally fit. Most of the day, morticians are on their feet. In preparation for the funeral, they move flower arrangements and carry caskets. Behind-the-scenes, morticians move bodies for embalming. Plus, they work long hours or are on-call with hospitals, so your body should be cut for this type of work.
Despite dealing with death and grieving, becoming a mortician is still a fulfilling career path. Apart from the good pay, you can also flex your empathy and comfort while you extend your sympathy to grieving families.