Becoming a mortician usually requires a combination of education, work experience, and personality. You will almost always need a high school diploma or equivalent to get started, and a bachelor’s degree is also required in some places. On top of this, morticians usually need specific training related to body embalming, funeral directorship, and jurisdiction-specific protocol related to death certificates and necessary filings. Sometimes this training comes from a formal educational program, but it can also be learned on the job through an internship or apprenticeship. Once you have received all of your necessary training, you will need to decide whether you want to work as a part of a larger mortician’s team, or whether you want to open up a funeral parlor of your own.
How much education morticians need to have is largely a matter of local rules, but a high school diploma is almost always a bare minimum. Most morticians also complete a specific training program that prepares them for working with the dead. Schools that offer degrees in mortuary science usually cover these basics automatically; students that pursue more mainstream degrees like business administration must usually attend these sorts of courses independently.
Dedicated mortuary school programs usually last for two years, and include training in such things as embalming, making up bodies for open casket funerals, running a funeral home, managing the paperwork associated with death, and so forth. Schools also provide practice and learning opportunities for students, and may also offer placements and career counseling services for people who want mid-year internships and work experience.
Formal training is an important part of the journey to become a mortician, but it by no means the end of the road. You will also usually have to have some hands-on experience in the field before you will be competitive on the job market. Aspiring morticians frequently become apprentices or interns after they finish their schooling as a way to build tangible skills, as well as network with those who may be hiring. Real-life experience is also a great way to prepare for licensing or certification exams.
Certificates and Licensures
Most jurisdictions regulate who may become a mortician through a series of exams or certification requirements. These make sure that anyone entering the profession has the right skills and training — dealing with the dead is often a very sensitive issue, and controlling workers’ credentials is one way in which local governments look out for their citizens.
Though much depends on location, the required exams are rarely very strenuous. Most of the time, they just test the basics; anyone with the right training and experience should have no trouble passing. Licensure boards may also want to see transcripts from mortuary school, and sometimes even recommendations from professors or supervisors. Licenses and certificates must often be renewed on a periodic basis, usually every couple of years.
Once you have become a mortician, you will need to choose where you want to work and what sort of arrangement you want to have. Many people start by joining the staff of existing funeral homes, often as assistant directors or “junior” staff. You may also choose to open your own business. A lot depends on your personal interests, as well as the needs of your community.
Work in either setting tends to be both varied and challenging. The hours tend to be highly irregular, as funeral home staff must be on call day and night to collect the bodies of deceased individuals. Morticians also need to work with bodies in a wide variety of conditions, including people who have been autopsied, organ and tissue donors, and victims of serious accidents or assaults. A skilled mortician can make a body presentable for family viewing and burial no matter what condition it is in.
Personal Skills and Communication
You will usually need to cultivate excellent communication skills in order to succeed, and a compassion for those in grief and distress is often also helpful. Though the bulk of your work will probably be behind the scenes, you will also have to interact with family members of the deceased. Morticians must have respect for a wide variety of cultural, religious, and personal beliefs. Listening to client wishes and calming funeral-related anxieties is all part of the job.
Some degree of business savvy is also important, especially if you hope to become a mortician in your own funeral home. Administrative tasks and things like budgeting, managing tax filings, and hiring and firing staff are not usually associated with morticians specifically, but are nevertheless important parts of running a successful business.