How to Become an Embalmer: Embalming Career Information and Salary Info


How to Become an Embalmer

Embalmers are professionals that use chemicals to forestall body decomposition and preserve human remains for long periods of time. The practice of embalming is essential to the funeral industry, and as a career path, it has much to offer. Embalming requirements vary from state to state, but the vast majority demand an associate degree in funeral service. Most embalmers must be available on call, and carry a pager at all times so that they can always be reached. Working through holidays and special occasions is pretty common for professional embalmers – this may be a deal-breaker for some. While embalming can be a difficult, and somewhat gruesome and macabre profession, it can also be a gratifying and rewarding choice of career for the right type of person.

Becoming an embalmer can be a challenging task. The technical skill required by this trade necessitates that you attend embalming school with the eventual aim of obtaining a license. An education in embalming typically takes at least two years of full-time study and includes anatomy, physiology, pathology, embalming techniques, restorative arts, ethics, funeral service law, and more.

What is the Average Embalmer Salary?

Embalmer Starting Salary $24,000
Average Embalmer Salary $42,000
Top 10% Embalmer Salary $60,000
Average Funeral Directory Salary $47,000
Top 10% Funeral Directory Salary $83,500

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Salary Data for Embalmers and Funeral Directors

A career in embalming can be reasonably fruitful, particularly for those who don’t intend to pursue a 4 year degree. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average embalmer salary in the United States is $41,720 a year.

Even though the initial embalming salary is not the greatest — new graduates only get around $24,000 a year — once some experience is acquired, embalmer salaries can go up to $60,430 (top 10%). This is a pretty good salary for a career path that only requires an associate degree (as opposed to a bachelor’s or higher).

In terms of career development, experienced embalmers will often move on to become Funeral Directors, which is an even more lucrative career path. The average funeral director earns about $47,250, and the top 10% of funeral directors can see salaries all the way up to $83,500.

Like many technical trades, there is a shortage of qualified embalmers entering the workforce (this applies even more to embalming due to its somewhat grim nature), so it is likely that the average embalming salary will rise (or at minimum, stay the same) over the next few decades.

Embalmer Job Description: What does an Embalmer Do

Embalmer Job Description - What does an Embalmer Do

While most people are aware of the existence of embalming as a profession, there are many who still don’t understand exactly what it is that embalmers do. Many people confuse embalmers with coroners, morticians, and funeral directors. Others imagine embalmers as people who mummify corpses in the style of ancient Egypt, but have no concept of what embalmers do in the modern day.

To briefly summarize an embalmer’s job description, one must first understand the full extent of the technique and its applications, as well as the importance of the trade.

Embalmers have a set of very specialized skills. Most of these skills relate to the preparation of the deceased for funeral services, burial, or cremation. Embalmers are absolutely essential to the funeral industry. Embalmers are, amongst other things, responsible for removing the natural body fluids like blood from the deceased and replacing it with embalming fluid, working on a body to hide or repair aesthetic damage to a body, and attempting to make the body look as natural and restful as possible – typically by applying specialized makeup to the deceased.

Embalmers are in constant contact with the bodies of those who have passed. This also means that they will frequently need to deal with bodily fluids, and in some cases may be exposed to disease. Highly traumatic situations are also inevitable when it comes to the trade: embalmers will occasionally need to work with the bodies of decease children, or with bodies that have been the subject of brutal accidents or violent crimes. That is why embalmers go through a whole lot of mental and psychological training: developing the required stamina to endure the the considerable emotional and physical stress combined with extremely long work hours.

As an embalmer, a normal day will involve activities such as: disinfecting the bodies of the deceased to avoid potential disease and deterioration, working to apply embalming fluids/preserving agents to bodies, and beautifying the body (this includes things like applying makeup, repairing and hiding areas of damage, and applying makeup where appropriate) so that it is presentable for the funeral service.

Embalmers also typically work extremely closely with funeral directors. This partnership focuses on ensuring all of the family’s wishes are met, and all health and safety regulations are complied with.

Depending on the funeral home, the embalmer may also be required to work with suppliers of mortuary chemicals and equipment and completing administrative tasks like filling out paperwork and meeting any reporting requirements. In smaller funeral homes (typically ones that serve small towns), the embalmer is sometimes also the funeral director.

A Career in Embalming: Educational Requirements and Licensing

Associates or Bachelors Degree in Funeral Service/Embalming 2 Years/4 Years
Apprenticeship Approx 1-2 Years
Obtaining a License Min Age 18 or 21. Must fulfill all requirements set by State.
Continuing Education State Dependent

 

Those who wish to pursue a career in embalming must first complete either an associates or bachelors degree at a school that’s accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education. Currently, there are 58 American Board of Funeral Service Education accredited programs. Embalming schools normally offer both associate and bachelor degree programs. These programs are essential if you’re interested in pursuing a career in embalming. These degrees focus on teaching mortuary science through coursework as well as through practical learning. Embalming is a technical trade, so apprenticeships play a large role in initial career development. Embalmers licensed through this educational process must have at least an Associate (2-year) mortuary science degree from an accredited school.

A degree from an accredited school will ensure that prospective embalmers have all the required knowledge and skills for the trade. In the course of obtaining a degree in mortuary sciences, students will become familiar with the important techniques and procedures required by the jobs. Coursework will cover a range of important topics including: 

  • Preservation of the Deceased
  • Body and facial positioning
  • Disinfection & General Health and Safety
  • Embalming Chemicals/Equipment
  • Fluid Drainage/Injection

In addition to the technical classes, students must also take some generic courses – these will typically relate to business management, law and regulation, ethics, etc.

After graduating, students will need to apply for apprenticeships – this is a mandated step in the licensing process. These apprenticeships provide the necessary practical experience required for a career in embalming. Apprenticeships may last up to two years and must be completed under a state licensed funeral director. Experience as an apprentice is vital if you want to successfully pursue a career as an embalmer – academic knowledge alone does not fully prepare you for the trials and tribulations of a career in the funeral industry.

After the required apprenticeship is completed, those wanting to pursue a proper career as an Embalmer must get licensed by the State by passing an exam.

Some states also require a certain amount of continuing education hours in order to maintain a funeral director/embalming license. The maximum number of CE hours is 12 per year – requirements are either annual or bi-annual depending on which state the embalmer/funeral director is licensed in.

For exact information on educational, apprenticeship, and continuing education requirements needed to maintain in good standing as a licensed embalmer or funeral services professional, you can refer to the Licensing boards and requirements information provided by the National Funeral Directors Association.

Other Jobs related to Embalming

Funeral Director/Mortician – While funeral directors are sometimes also embalmers, the two are actually two distinct professions. While embalmers primarily deal with the various processes involved in preserving and beautifying the deceased, a funeral director/mortician is in charge of all the logistical details involved in organizing a funeral. Funeral directors who own smaller businesses will often also do the work of an embalmer, but in many cases, the funeral director is the supervisor/boss of the embalmer. A more old-fashioned term for a funeral director is an undertaker. Someone who starts their career off as an embalmer may well eventually become a funeral director as they progress in their careers.

Coroner – A coroner, also known as a medical examiner, is the person who’s responsible for determining cause of death. This is frequently done via autopsy. A career as a coroner is quite different from a career as an embalmer and the two should not be confused as they serve very different functions. Coroners often work with police departments and are frequently government employees.

Embalming Careers Outside the US

Laws and licensing requirements differ from country to country, and what has been discussed in this article thus far pertain to the profession in the United States.

How to become an embalmer in the UK — In the United Kingdom, would-be embalmers apply and train at the British Institute of Embalmers, and must pass the required examinations for certification.

How to become an embalmer in Canada — Those who seek a license to work as an embalmer in Canada must receive certification from the Industry Training Authority, after training in an accredited training establishment.

Additional Tips and Information

According to the BLS, statistics show that demand will continue to be strong for embalmers over the next decade. This sustained demand for funeral services can mainly be attributed to the baby boomer generation and their projected demand for funeral services. Embalming is also a career path that is a admittedly a little grim and macabre, and so there tends to be a shortage of young people who’re willing to pursue the career path.

The best embalmers are those with the capacity to empathize with the grief of the family without getting caught up in it. Maintaining professionalism even when the clients are mourning is an essential skill. It goes without saying that embalmers should have strong stomachs and should be relatively comfortable dealing with the deceased. It is also important that those in the funeral industry treat both the living and the deceased with the utmost respect.

Embalmers should also have an eye on the legal and regulatory side of things and make sure that they are always in compliance with both the law and with best practices in the profession.

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