The Pros and Cons of a Career as a Funeral Service Worker
The funeral service field encompasses various career paths, including funeral director, embalmer and attendant. Read on for the pros and cons of the field to see if a career as a funeral service worker is right for you.
|PROS of Becoming a Funeral Service Worker|
|Can choose from three career paths*|
|Directors have the potential to earn a mean annual wage of about $52,000 with just an associate's degree*|
|Some jobs only require on-the-job training (funeral attendants and some embalmers can enter this field without a postsecondary degree)*|
|Strong job prospects for directors who embalm and are willing to relocate*|
|CONS of Becoming a Funeral Service Worker|
|Often work long hours, including on call, weekends and nights*|
|Work can be stressful (requires working with families and friends of the deceased, who are often upset)*|
|Slower than average job growth for some positions (expected 1% growth rate for attendants and -15% growth rate for embalmers from 2012-2022)*|
|Employment of embalmers could be impacted by rising interest in cremation**|
|Only 57 accredited mortuary science programs available in the U.S.*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **State of California Employment Development Department.
Job Description and Duties
Funeral directors, also known as funeral home managers, morticians and undertakers, consult with the family of the deceased and help plan a memorial service, wake, burial or cremation. As a funeral director, you might also embalm bodies, train other staff members, arrange for pallbearers, prepare obituaries and submit various required paperwork. Sometimes, you might have more than one funeral scheduled for the same day.
As an embalmer, you'd follow legal procedures for the preparation of bodies after death. Embalming includes taking blood and waste matter from bodies, replacing blood with embalming fluid, closing incisions, reconstructing features or body parts, joining lips with needle and thread and dressing bodies for placement in caskets. Some embalmers also fulfill many of the other duties of a funeral director. Funeral attendants assist the funeral director before and during a funeral. They might greet and direct mourners, handle casket closures and moves, drive funeral vehicles and transport flowers.
Salary Info and Career Outlook
In May 2014, the BLS reported a mean annual wage of about $52,000 for funeral directors, approximately $42,000 for embalmers and about $25,000 for attendants. At that time, some of the top paying states for these occupations included Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey. Job growth for embalmers and funeral attendants from 2012-2022 was expected to be slower than average, according to the BLS. However, those who choose the director path, and do embalming, should find average job growth.
What Are the Requirements?
Aspiring funeral directors need at least an associate's degree from a mortuary science program accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE). You'll take courses in embalming and restorative methods, grief counseling, ethics, anatomy, business law and funeral service management. Some schools offer online courses, with the exception of the embalming and restorative methods requirements. The BLS reports that some employers look for applicants with bachelor's degrees; however, bachelor's degree programs are only offered by a handful of schools.
Many embalmers earn associate's degrees in mortuary science, according to O*Net Online. They then gain further experience on the job. Funeral attendants need a high school diploma or equivalent and can acquire training on the job.
All states require licensing for funeral directors, according to the BLS. Most states require a minimum age of 21, completion of a 2-year ABFSE-accredited mortuary science program, fulfillment of an apprenticeship of 1-3 years and a minimum passing score earned on a qualifying exam. In addition, most states require that you earn continuing education credits to maintain your licensure. State board licensing is also required for embalmers. Embalmers may need to complete an apprenticeship and take an exam in order to be licensed.
Important personal qualities for all funeral service workers include compassion for working with the bereaved, dependability and a high tolerance for stress. Directors should also have solid time-management skills. Funeral service workers who embalm should show strong attention to detail.
What Real Employers Seek
Employers of funeral service workers tend to prefer directors and embalmers with appropriate degrees and licenses. Some employers want applicants who can work both during the day and at night and who are able to pass drug and background checks. Below are some excerpts from real job postings from April 2012:
- A large company in the cemetery industry was looking for a funeral home manager/director for its location in Indiana. The company required that you have a degree from an accredited school of embalming or mortuary science and be a licensed funeral director and embalmer with at least one year of experience.
- In Arizona, a care center responsible for transportation and preparation services for a company's funeral homes advertised for a licensed embalmer. This position required an Arizona embalmer's license, excellent driving skills, the ability to lift 50 pounds, strong communication skills and the ability to interact with families during their time of need. A degree was preferred but not required.
- A funeral home in Texas was looking for a part-time funeral attendant, for both day and evening hours. Applicants needed a professional demeanor for this entry-level opening.
How Can I Stand Out in My Field?
Earn an Advanced Degree
If you're interested in working as a funeral director, you might consider earning a bachelor's degree in mortuary science. The BLS reported that employers are becoming more interested in applicants with bachelor's degrees. In addition, some states now require a bachelor's degree for licensure.
According to the Employment Development Department of the State of California, having contacts with people in the industry could be your best route to employment as an embalmer. Maintaining your connection with the company where you completed your apprenticeship or establishing connections while in school could help you stand out among applicants. In addition, it could be beneficial to belong to a professional organization, like the National Funeral Directors Association or the Cremation Association of North America. Some state chapters of these associations may offer referral services.
Other Fields to Consider
Not sure you want to spend all your time in a funeral home? If you still want to work with the deceased and like solving mysteries, you might consider becoming a coroner. Coroners, sometimes called medical examiners, perform autopsies and attempt to determine the cause of death. In some cases, they may also need to identify the deceased. You'll need more education to work in this field, generally a doctoral degree. You might also need to attend medical school and complete residency and fellowship requirements. While most coroner jobs are elected positions, you can also work as a deputy coroner; these professionals are generally hired or appointed. You also have the potential for high wages in this field; Payscale.com reported that coroners earned up to $102,000 as of April 2012.
If you think that you'd feel more rewarded by helping live persons in time of need, another profession that you might want to consider is a social worker. You could work in a school, mental health clinic, private practice or hospital. Your work would involve helping people cope with their everyday problems or diagnosing and treating behavioral, mental and/or emotional problems. A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required, according to the BLS, and the mean annual wage as of May 2011 was approximately $54,000.