Mortician salary ranges from about $26,000 to slightly over $80,000, depending on location and skills. A mortician or funeral director handles embalming, body preparation, and the business side of death for grieving relatives. The funeral services business is expected to grow slightly as Baby Boomers age.
A mortician is an old name for a funeral director or undertaker. Morticians arrange the specifics of the funeral service.
After a person dies, their loved ones must bury or cremate the body, schedule funeral services, and deal with wills, pensions, and annuities. The bereaved may be too emotional to take care of all the details in such a short time. A funeral director can help the deceased’s loved ones take care of these issues.
Morticians could assist families in making funeral decisions if the deceased had no instructions for burial, cremation, or other services.
The average mortician salary is $43,812, as of 2016. An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in mortuary science is required for a job in this field. Funeral directors and embalmers must be licensed. You must have an apprenticeship of one to three years before you become a full-fledged mortician.
Here are some of the things a funeral director or mortician does:
- Help the relatives decide on cremation or burial if they haven’t done so already
- Embalm or prepare the body for cremation or burial
- Arrange transportation if the body has to be sent out of state or out of the country
- Prepare obituary notices
- Arrange for pallbearers and clergy
- File death certificates and other documents
- Helping with pensions transfer, insurance, and other administrative tasks
- Counseling family of the deceased
- Schedule the grave to be opened and closed during burial
The Business of Death
The mortician must follow instructions when the deceased person’s culture or religion deems that there’s a certain way to treat the body, or that a particular ritual must be performed,
You can’t cremate Muslims, Eastern Orthodox Christians, or Orthodox Jews. The LDS church prefers its followers to be buried instead of cremated. Individual Mormons, however, can choose to be cremated. Hindus should be cremated, not buried, according to tradition.
Burial involves selecting a coffin with appropriate and affordable materials and design for the deceased. Cremation is less expensive than burial, but prices can rise quickly depending on the urn or receptacle.
Some clients plan their funerals. Pre-planning eases the pressure of last-minute preparations and ensures the funeral home follows the deceased’s instructions. Choosing coffins and other aspects of the funeral service in advance makes it easier to price the funeral package accurately.
Unfortunately, pre-planning isn’t possible most of the time because death can happen to anyone at any time. Morticians are on-call, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. You may have a few funerals to arrange for the same day, or two or three days to set-up a funeral.
Your family and friends should understand you may have to leave social engagements early to deal with sudden death.
Funeral directors need compassion and good communication skills to deal with the bereaved. Morticians must have a solid grasp of business management and time management to handle legal, financial, and ethical issues that may arise.
You’ll also need knowledge of embalming and preparing corpses for cremation and burial.
Take classes in biology, chemistry, and business in high school. Psychology and public speaking courses can help you when dealing with the bereaved. You can take a part-time job at a funeral home in high school or college to learn more about the business before you complete your studies.
Funeral directors need a license and a college degree. Even if you want to be an embalmer and avoid the business side of things, you’ll still need a license.
A funeral director needs at least an associate’s degree in mortuary science or funeral service. The American Board of Funeral Service Education offers a two-year associate’s degree. There are four-year mortuary science programs at some colleges. Check out the accredited programs list at the American Board of Funeral Service Education website.
Mortuary science courses cover business and psychology subjects, such as communication, ethics, grief counseling, and business law. Students also learn anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Most funeral directors begin their careers as embalmers. You will work with corpses and dissect cadavers during your mortician training.
Embalming involves the preservation and positioning of bodies. It shows you how to raise veins, pose facial features, drain blood from the body, and make the body presentable for viewing.
Embalming courses include wax treatments and anatomical modeling. You’ll also learn about bone structure, facial muscles, using cosmetics, and eye and mouth modeling.
An embalmer’s mission is to give the corpse a serene expression. The embalmer stuffs the nose and throat with cotton. She then closes the eyes by inserting spiked cups under the eyelids. The mouth is sutured shut.
Many people want to be cremated instead of buried. You’ll learn how to remove pacemakers and artificial joints before cremation. These devices may explode melt during the cremation process.
You’ll use toxic chemicals that pose health risks when you embalm a corpse. It’s important to learn how to use these chemicals safely.
After you’ve gotten your degree and completed an apprenticeship program, you must pass a licensing exam to work as a funeral director. The exam covers subjects, including business law, microbiology, anatomy, psychology, embalming, and restorative arts.
The licensure in most states covers embalming and funeral director functions. Some states require separate embalmer and funeral director licenses.
All states except Colorado require morticians to get a license then their internship ends. You’ll need to be 21 years old, have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, and pass the licensing exam to work as a mortician.
You’ll need to take the licensing exam for every state where you want to work. The International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards gives the national exam. You can take the pass/fail test three times a year. You’ll know which sections you failed before retaking the test, but not the exact questions that stumped you.
The ICFSEB charges $50 for every other state exam you take. The initial exam costs $570.
Licensed morticians can work as an embalmer or another employee at a funeral home. Work your way up to the funeral director or start your own funeral home. Some funeral directors handle the paperwork and don’t deal with body preparation.
You’ll need additional certification in many states if you cremate bodies. The Cremation Society of North America (CANA) is one of the groups administering tests for cremation certification. Check to make sure your state accepts CANA certification.
You’ll study cremation basics online before taking the certification test. The subjects include:
- Cremation overview
- How cremation works, step-by-step
- Equipment used
- Custody of body and remains
- Environmental concerns
- Legal issues
Complete the coursework and get at least 80 percent on the exam to receive certification for five years. Retake the class before the five-year certification lapses and test for another five-year certificate. The course and certification test costs $595; $495 if you are a CANA member.
Most states require morticians to take continuing education courses to keep their licenses. You’ll stay up-to-date on funeral service law and learn new trends through on-site or long-distance (online) courses.
The Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice offers a Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP) designation. You earn credits for this certificate by participating in community and civic groups, attending mortician workshops and seminars, and publishing articles on funeral service practice.
A CFSP designation can help you expand career opportunities and earn more money.
Dealing with the Bereaved
Morticians work with people who are shocked by the sudden death of a relative. The bereaved may not be in a logical or coherent state of mind. Therefore, it’s important for funeral directors to be patient, understanding, and thorough when finalizing plans for services.
You’ll need impeccable attention to detail when writing obituaries or arranging religious services. Being thorough reduces the chance that something important will be omitted.
A funeral director should be emotionally resilient to deal with bereaved or angry people daily. Some morticians become emotionally detached because of the intense nature of the job. A callous attitude increases the chance that you’ll forget something vital when planning funerals. You may become angry or self-medicate in your personal life.
Consider the emotional toll a funeral director job may take on your life before committing to the profession.
The lowest mortician salary is under $27,000, and the top ten percent of funeral directors make over $80,000. The amount you earn depends partially on where you’re located. (You’ll make more money in New York City than West Virginia.)
Consider living in a highly-populated area if you want to earn a higher mortician salary.
Jobs for morticians should grow by five percent through 2026. As Baby Boomers age, there will be more demand for funeral and cremation services. People skilled at embalming, and the business side of funeral services will be in more demand than individuals practicing only one of these skills.
The National Funeral Directors’ website offers a list of job openings nationwide for funeral directors, apprentices, and embalmers. You can search by state or job title. The site also lets you upload your resume and network with other job seekers. The NFDA hosts a yearly convention for funeral directors and embalmers.