Embalmer Career and Education Information
While a career as an embalmer may not immediately spring to mind for many people, this is definitely a career that has much to offer. When you choose to become an embalmer, you are able to serve people of all walks of life during some of their most difficult times. Embalming is a noble profession that is essential to the funeral industry. The job of an embalmer is as demanding as it is rewarding. Many people who choose this profession must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many embalmers carry a pager and must always be on call. This may mean working during a holiday or special event and requires a high level of personal sacrifice. If you are interested in entering this unique profession, it is important to understand everything that is involved in your choice.
What Is an Embalmer?
An embalmer is a highly trained professional with a specialized skill set. To become an embalmer, one must attain very specific qualifications and land a position with a licensed funeral home, laboratory, or research facility. In a funeral home, the embalmer is responsible for embalming and preparing the bodies of the deceased for funeral services as well as burials or cremations. This may involve removing blood and replacing it with embalming fluid, performing complex reconstruction to disguise damage, and applying makeup to provide a peaceful, relaxing appearance.
During the course of the work, embalmers must be in direct contact with the deceased. This means that they are regularly exposed to bodily fluids and, possibly, infectious diseases. In addition, they may have to deal with situations that can be highly traumatic, such as child deaths, victims of traumas, and more. As such, it is important for embalmers to be able to deal with large amounts of stress and to have a high level of stamina, as some cases will take very long hours and an extreme amount of work.
Job Duties of an Embalmer
During the course of employment as an embalmer, you can expect to wash and disinfect the bodies of the deceased to stave off infection and deterioration, replace bodily fluids and gases with preserving agents, washing and styling the hair of the deceased, and using restorative processes and makeup to create a natural appearance.
In addition, embalmers must work very closely with funeral directors to meet the families’ wishes, clean and maintain the mortuary, and comply with all state and federal safety and health regulations. Depending upon the size of the facility, the embalmer may also be responsible for keeping the mortuary stocked and for completing and filing all necessary paperwork. In small facilities, the embalmer may also be the funeral director.
Qualities of a Good Embalmer
Although this job is highly rewarding, it is not ideal for everyone. In order to be a good embalmer, you must be extremely sensitive to the feelings of others and be able to feel empathy for the grief and stress they are experiencing. Embalmers must always maintain a dignified and responsible outlook on the work and be self-motivated enough to work alone with little or no direction from others. In addition to these qualities, embalmers must have a very strong stomach when it comes to sights and smells, be able to use a delicate touch, have a high level of attention to detail, respect for various religions, and be ever mindful of laws and regulations. The ideal candidates for this career are highly interested in anatomy, science, and chemistry and are able to handle a vast array of surgical instruments, equipment, and tools.
Education and Training to Become an Embalmer
Before you can become an embalmer, you must get the proper education and training from a recognized and accredited mortuary science school. Currently there are 60 American Board of Funeral Service Education accredited programs. Most of these are associate’s degree programs, but there are some bachelor’s degree programs available. These programs prepare people to work as embalmers through a combination of complex coursework and hands-on experience through apprenticeships. In every state, embalmers must be licensed and this often requires that the applicant have at least a 2-year accredited mortuary science degree.
Mortuary science degree programs provide students with all of the skills and knowledge needed to perform the many details involved in dealing with the deceased. The courses include everything from anatomy, pathology, and physiology to ethics, communication, and grief counseling. In the anatomy course, students learn the major systems of the human body, with emphasis on the muscular and circulatory systems. This portion of the training will also include cadaver and dissection experience as well as a study of organs and cells. The embalming course teaches techniques and procedures for preserving bodies, raising veins, positioning bodies, and posing facial features. In addition, students learn about disinfection, blood drainage, chemicals used in embalming, and fluid injection through lab work. Mortuary science students also get training in restorative arts. This involves anatomical modeling, bone structure, facial muscles, wax treatments, eye and mouth modeling, the use of cosmetics, and restorative arts.
In addition to the hands-on portion of training, students in a mortuary science degree must take courses in mortuary management and law and ethics, among others. This part of the training covers everything students need to know regarding the operation of a funeral home, including office management, human resources, documentation, survivor benefits, types of funerals, and funeral terminology. Law and ethics training includes the legal status of a body, wills, cemetery law, rights and responsibilities of funeral service workers, estate administration, disposal rights, and mortuary industry regulations and compliance.
Once you graduate from a mortuary science program, you must perform an apprenticeship that provides hands-on experience in the funeral industry. These internships may last between one and three years and must be completed under the direct supervision of a licensed, experienced funeral director. This portion of the training typically takes place after graduation and allows students to be fully prepared to work in the field.
Every state requires that embalmers and funeral directors be licensed. In some states, one license covers both job titles, but in others one must obtain a separate license for each area of the industry. While licensing requirements may vary, candidates must typically be at least 21 years of age, have a minimum of an associate’s degree, fulfill at least one year of apprenticeship training, and pass a formal licensing exam. Once a license is granted, embalmers may find employment with an established funeral home or may choose to start their own business. Licensure must be maintained by meeting continuing education requirements.
In addition to the emotional fulfillment offered by a career in embalming, people who choose this job also receive financial reward. The average salary for an embalmer in this country is $45,060 a year, according the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. This amount can vary greatly, however, depending upon location, education, experience, and job title. This means that new graduates may earn as little as $27,000, but those with experience may earn as much as $64,400 a year or more. While experience definitely pays off in this career, candidates with the most comprehensive sets of technical skills and the most compassionate client service often have the highest salaries.
Embalmer Career Outlook
Although this career offers a number of emotional and financial rewards, it also provides a very favorable job outlook. BLS statistics show that there will be high demand for embalmers in coming years and that the industry is expecting a growth of around 18% by the year 2020. This growth is partially due to the aging baby boomer population as well as an increased demand for quality care for the deceased. In addition, the great amount of technical development and improvement over the past several years has created a need for highly skilled embalmers who can properly use the new technology and methods.
The career of embalmer is a great one that provides everything you could want in a career. Best of all, this career promises to get even better over the next few years as demand for talented embalmers grows. If you are tactful, compassionate, and ready to put in the necessary work, this remarkable field awaits you.