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Embalmer Job Description, Career as an Embalmer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school plus training; license

Salary: Average—$34,690 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Embalmers prepare the dead for burial. The embalming process disinfects the body to prevent the spread of disease. It also preserves the body for funeral services. Most embalmers work for funeral homes, hospitals, medical schools, and morgues (places where bodies are held until they can be identified or until the cause of death can be determined). Many embalmers also serve as funeral directors.

Embalmers must know and follow the laws that deal with the handling and treatment of dead bodies. When they are given a body to prepare, they wash it with germicidal soap and dry it. They also shave the body if necessary. During the embalming process, embalmers insert tubes into the body to remove the blood and replace it with embalming fluid. Embalmers sometimes also reshape parts of the body using materials such as cotton, plastic, or wax. They may apply cosmetics to give the face a lifelike appearance. They also dress the body and arrange it in a casket. If the body is to be sent to another area for burial, embalmers place it in a special transportation case.

Embalmers who work for small funeral homes also perform other tasks, such as serving as pallbearers or helping during funeral services. Embalmers who work in hospitals, medical schools, or morgues help to prepare bodies for autopsies, which are examinations after death, or for dissection. They may also help at autopsies. Sometimes they have to file police reports or testify at inquests, which are official inquiries into the cause of death.

Education and Training Requirements

Interested individuals can begin to prepare for a career as an embalmer while in high school. Courses in science and art are useful for the technical and artistic sides of embalming. If individuals want to work in other areas of funeral service, they will find that psychology, sociology, speech, and business subjects are also helpful. Prospective embalmers can get practical experience working part time or during summers in a funeral home.

After receiving formal training in mortuary science or funeral service, embalmers must serve an apprenticeship and pass a state board examination. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

There are special programs to train embalmers. They are called mortuary science programs and are offered by private vocational schools. They take nine months to three years to complete. A few colleges also offer four-year programs in funeral service. Candidates will need to serve an apprenticeship of one to three years during or after formal training.

All states require embalmers to be licensed. Requirements vary, but, typically, candidates must be at least twenty-one years old and a graduate of a high school and a mortuary science school. Prospective embalmers usually need to complete an apprenticeship and pass a state board examination. Most states require a year or more of college before individuals can start their specialized training. Most embalmers get a license as a funeral director as well.

Getting the Job

Interested candidates can apply directly to funeral homes or other institutions that employ embalmers. A local phone book can be a good source for contact information. Although most funeral homes are family businesses, many employ people who are not members of the family. Embalmers may continue working at funeral homes where they had part-time jobs while still in school or where they served apprenticeships. Most schools of mortuary science have placement services that can help candidates to find a job. Newspaper classifieds and Internet job banks may list openings. Prospective workers can also contact professional associations for information on available positions. Members of the clergy may be able to introduce job seekers to local funeral directors.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Embalmers who choose to remain strictly in the field of embalming can become a chief embalmer in a large funeral home, hospital, medical school, or morgue. Embalmers on the staff of hospitals or medical schools can be appointed to the boards of professional associations and can write articles for professional and scientific journals. Some embalmers become teachers.

Most embalmers, however, expand their activities and become funeral directors. They can buy an existing funeral home or start a new one. Either venture requires a great deal of money, but loans are available to qualified people.

The employment outlook for embalmers is expected to be good. As the proportion of people over the age of fifty-five continues to grow, the number of deaths will likely increase. Also, many jobs will open as workers retire or leave the field.

Working Conditions

The embalming process is done in clean, well-lighted rooms that must pass state inspections. Embalmers must often lift and carry bodies and other heavy objects during embalming and during funeral services. They must be able to work well with their hands. Because embalmers sometimes meet the family and friends of the deceased, they must have the ability to deal tactfully with people who are under emotional stress.

Where to Go for More Information

National Funeral Directors Association
13625 Bishop's Dr.
Brookfield, WI 53005-6600
(800) 228-6332

National Selected Morticians
500 Lake Cook Rd., Ste. 205
Deerfield, IL 60015
(800) 323-4219

Embalmers often work more than forty hours per week. Their hours may be irregular, because there may be slow periods followed by a series of funerals within a short period. In larger establishments embalmers may work shifts; in smaller ones they may be on call at all times. Sometimes embalmers work for several funeral homes.

Earnings and Benefits

Licensed embalmers earn a median salary of $34,690 per year. Salaries vary, however, depending on experience, geographical location, and the volume of business at particular establishments. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

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