Funeral Directors Careers
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The average value of the Associate degree needed to become a Funeral directors is $1,178,297.00.
One of the less common choices for a career is a funeral director. For many years, the funeral industry has been surrounded by negative misconceptions and ideas. Today funeral directors are a vital part of not only the funeral planning and process, but also that of helping families grieve in a healthy way. While many careers and jobs are outsourced or dropping in numbers, funeral directors are increasingly in higher demand as the "Baby Boomer" generation continues to age. Careers in the funeral industry are a rewarding and fulfilling service. While those who enter the field will never become millionaires, this career choice has many intangible rewards. To lessen the mystery and suspicion about the death care industry, funeral directors are often the professionals who are responsible for changing this view. By community involvement in activities and services, such as religious services in nursing homes, funeral directors build a friendly and warm relationship with members of the community.
Points Of Interest
The prospective job opportunities are promising for funeral directors, especially for those who embalm, cremate or do both. This field is not experiencing an overabundance of graduates for the number of projected job openings. Many students will have the opportunity to relocate if they desire. Funeral directors earn a license from the state in which they work and reside. Education need not be completed in the same state as the student resides, in fact, an education may be completed mostly online. Funeral directors must have the ability to effectively communicate with people from various religions and ethnic groups; they must be able to provide compassion, comfort and care for the bereaved. Funeral directors hold a large responsibility for display of competent work in both planning and executing the funeral; failure to do so will have undesirable legal consequences.
Nature Of The Work
Funeral directors do not simply lead the funeral service. The scope of care of a funeral director includes the decedent, family and community. Creating a positive and lasting "last picture" of the decedent is important. Funeral directors have the responsibility to see that the body is not mutilated or displayed in an unsatisfactory manner. Seeing the body in a positive manner is an important part of the psychological detachment and grieving process of the decedent's surviving loved ones. Because of the past negative associations many people have with funerals of the past, directors must work hard to repair that image to a more realistic picture. Offering support to families who are grieving is one of the most important duties. Funeral directors meet with the family to discuss the planning details of the funeral service. Every available option must be explained to the family. For example, families, or those who are entrusted with disposition, must be informed that they have the right to choose between cremation, embalming with an open casket or refrigeration with no open casket. These professionals must learn the many methods of disposition and the legal requirements each one entails. Funeral directors learn how to exercise patience and empathy with grieving families and are trained to work with them in a professional and calm manner. Every person will grieve in a different way, so prospective students need to understand this and learn how to effectively communicate with emotions ranging from anger to depression. Many legal requirements govern the behavior and practice of funeral directors. They have a duty to ensure the visitors to a service are safe; they must also confirm that a body is properly interred or cremated. Failure to comply with Mortuary law, which are based on state, common, case and statutory laws, is a serious and punishable offense.
Depending upon where a funeral director is employed, their duties will expand beyond the task of planning and directing a funeral and may include direct care of the decedent. Those who have completed an approved Mortuary Science degree program will also be responsible for embalming in some smaller funeral homes. Embalming is a procedure that must be done to retard organic composition, slow the growth of pathogens and restore an acceptable appearance to the body. The procedure does involve direct contact with bodily fluids and tissues. Protective goggles, masks, shoe covers, gowns and gloves are used, but proper usage must be learned to prevent contracting any communicable diseases. Incisions are made to raise arteries used in arterial embalming; meanwhile the accompanying vein is cut to drain the blood. Embalmers also inject fluid into the thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities to preserve the organs after aspirating them with an instrument. Bodies must be watched carefully for signs of purge and decomposition and treated before viewing to eliminate complications.
The task of embalming may be sobering and taxing at times; victims with severed limbs or autopsied remains are often brought in for embalming and restorative procedures. Embalming infants and children is also practiced, so students need to have a psychologically healthy mindset and perspective. Restorative art is used to repair the body to its original appearance before trauma or discolorations related to the death. Many funeral directors assist with the application of cosmetics and dressing the body for viewing. Some funeral directors also learn the procedure of cremation, since this choice of disposition is gaining popularity. Retrieval of bodies, shipping of bodies and proper storage is also a required task in many instances. Obtaining proper licensing to drive limousines, large vans or hearses is also a requirement. Funeral students must be certain to keep their driving record clear of violations and tickets.
Funeral directors are also responsible for many administrative tasks. Keeping an inventory of caskets, urns, burial clothing, memorial cards and other sundries is the duty of the funeral director in many instances. For those who do not use an accountant, the tracking of expenses and calculation of profit margins is also a necessity. There are many legal forms required by law, which may vary from one state to another, involved with the funeral planning and disposition process. Agreement to bury in a cemetery, approval for embalming or cremation and contracts for services are among the many necessary papers required. Some directors also help families plan exquisite or unique arrangements, such as the rendering of human ash into a diamond for memory - or burials at sea. Contracting with outside companies to perform these tasks is necessary and the funeral director has an extra burden of the proper duty of care to ensure the plans are carried out properly. In addition to paperwork, the funeral director also must seek out community attention to keep a steady flow of business. Finding business is often difficult with competitors and the legal restrictions for solicitation and advertising. Becoming involved in the community or with charity work is often part of the funeral director's job to gain publicity, community acceptance and more business.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
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In some states, funeral directors entered their position by simply working for a mortuary. With an entry position as a receptionist, driver or custodian, a person may work their way up to becoming a funeral director after years of related experience. Usually funeral directors have parents or relatives who are in the business, gaining exposure to the industry at an early age. After learning the many aspects of the business, individuals are able to start directing. In the past, apprenticeships were the common way to become a funeral director and are still used in several cases today. Two very important things that funeral directors learn in school are safety procedures and laws. Safety procedures and universal precautions are necessary in operating a funeral home, as they are required by OSHA. Applicable laws are also vital to know in order to avoid lawsuits for torts and proper legal procedures in disposition and duty of care.
Those who do not have experience in the funeral profession will need to seek a degree in Mortuary Science, which is also referred to as Funeral Studies in some schools. Degree programs typically last two years and graduates are awarded an Associate in Mortuary Science or an Associate of Applied Science in Mortuary Science. Only a few schools offer a 4-year Bachelor degree program. Perhaps one of the reasons why so few people choose this major in the past was the inaccessibility of schools. There are currently under 55 schools in the United States that offer an accredited Mortuary Science program; only 5 of those schools offer an online program. Online programs also include a mandatory visit to the school to complete hands-on embalming labs and restorative art labs in some cases. Students seeking an online-based program should seek Arapahoe Community College in Colorado or St. Petersburg College in Florida. Both programs are high-quality and offer extensive knowledge from skilled professionals. With the convenience of online programs, this degree is now accessible for more students.
Programs have prerequisite requirements, often including subjects such as Anatomy & Physiology, Writing, Communications, Ethics, Accounting, Management, Business Law, Psychology, World Religions and Chemistry. During the Mortuary program, students will study Thanato-Microbiology/Pathology/Chemistry, Mortuary Law, Embalming I & II, Restorative Art, Introduction to Funeral Service, History of Funeral Service, Funeral Merchandising, Funeral Directing, Counseling and a short internship.
Colleges offering the Mortuary program will require acceptance to the college first; after this the student must apply to the program. Hepatitis B vaccinations, a physical, a criminal background check and personal references and statements are often required for program acceptance, as well as completion of all or most prerequisites. Not all schools have the same requirement and some have more strict criteria than others. Students who depend upon financial aid must carefully consider which school to attend. Choices such as Worsham in Illinois or PIMS in Pennsylvania feature a one-year program with 4 semesters, which federal student aid may not cover entirely since it is based on a 2-semester year. In their own free time, students should also learn about the many alternative funeral and cremation options. Recent introduction of green burials to save money and harmful materials being put in the earth has sparked a lot of interest in some states. Students should be familiar with shipping and interring processes for these unique options upon graduation.
Upon completion of a Mortuary Science degree program, a graduate must then take their National Board Exam, given by the American Board of Funeral Service Examining, shortened to ABFSE. After this exam is completed and has been passed with a satisfactory score, a student will be able to practice as a funeral director and will be eligible for their embalming apprenticeship also. Those who choose to also embalm will need to check with their state of residence for requirements. Some states require a year, while others may require 2 years of embalming. Several states have a minimum body requirement as well. For example, the state of California currently requires a 2-year apprenticeship with a minimum of 100 bodies to be embalmed in that time. Once the apprenticeship is completed, the funeral professional will be able to perform both funeral directing and embalming freely. Earning a cremation license is another helpful step beyond Mortuary Science school, but is not currently a requirement for graduation from the program. Many funeral directors seek this license to make themselves more marketable or expand their mortuary's services. Cremation licenses generally require a very short time to obtain, varying from one state to another.
After several years in the field of funeral directing, a director may be able to advance further. Once experience is gained and a funeral director has a broad knowledge base, they may then choose to open their own funeral home or become a partner in a highly-established home. Along the way, many funeral directors are able to earn an extensive base of clients through successful sales and publicity. Chances for advancement with an employer or opening a separate business are both possibilities. Professional associations and state programs offer continuing education options to funeral directors, helping them maintain their licenses. Over 30 states list continuing education as a requirement for funeral directors to keep their licenses.
Employment Reports published in 2008 from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics show that 30,000 funeral directors held positions in the United States, of which 13% were self-employed. The remainder of these directors worked in the death care industry. Funeral directors generally work for a mortuary, also known as a funeral home. If a funeral director has attended school and completed an embalming apprenticeship, they may also work in an exclusively embalming facility. Some newer facilities and companies that are being built today specialize in only one area of service related to the funeral industry. If a funeral director wishes to work alone, self-employment as a funeral planner is an option. This may be a more difficult position than working for an established mortuary. By law, funeral directors are still held liable for many things that could go wrong and still have a duty of care for their clients that may be difficult to foresee. Some funeral directors work on a voluntary basis, often associated with local organizations, churches or religious groups.
Since the death industry is unpredictable, funeral directors often find themselves working hours that most people would consider undesirable, depending on their duties. Directors who work for small funeral homes and have a wide variety of tasks may be called upon in the middle of the night to pick up a body from a morgue, hospital, nursing home or residential home. If refrigeration is not available, the funeral director may then have to stay awake to search for and find relatives of the deceased to make arrangements. There is a short 24-hour window of time where a funeral director must either contact the family to make arrangements for immediate embalming, temporary storage or other disposition or they must arrange for the body to be refrigerated until the next of kin can be contacted. Families may arrange funerals on holidays, weekends or odd times of the day and night in some cases.
The number of funeral directors needed in the future is expected to increase by 12% by 2018, according to the BLS. Opportunities for jobs are expected to be good, especially for funeral directors who have also completed their embalming apprenticeship. Reports for expected growth are based on the overall need for death care service professionals, gleaned from death and population statistics. With many of the professionals currently in the profession reaching retirement age soon, this factor is also expected to influence the increase of job prospects. On a national average, funeral directors are older than other people in different professions. Graduates of the Mortuary Science program who are able and willing to relocate are higher than that of others who have no degree or are tied down in a specific area. Another factor increasing the likelihood of employment for many funeral directors is the ability to perform cremations. With many mortuaries adding a crematory to their facility and independent crematories opening, funeral directors who are able to do this qualify for more job opportunities.
According to the BLS, funeral directors in 2008 were approximately 30,000 in number. By 2018, this number is expected to increase by 3,600 funeral directors to make the projected growth total 33,600. This increase of 3,600 funeral professionals averages to a 12% growth.
Earning reports from the BLS in 2008 showed that the average median wage of funeral directors was $52,210 annually. Of this group, the middle 50% earned between $38,980 and $69,680. The 10th percentile earned below $29,910 and the 90th percentile earned more than $92,940. The salary a funeral director receives depends mostly on the years of experience they have, as well as their reputation in the community in which they served. Funeral directors who operated multiple facilities earner higher average salaries. Partners of large multi-location funeral homes often earn some of the highest salaries also. Another factor influencing salary, especially for entry level directors, is their level of education. Geographic location also plays a part; generally funeral directors who live in larger cities earn more than those in small rural areas.
The average hourly wage for funeral directors in 2009 was $29.04. As mentioned, in 2008, the average annual wage was $52,210. In 2009, that average grew to $60,390. The 10th percentile of this group earned an average hourly wage of $14.76, totaling $30,700 annually. The 25th percentile earned an average hourly wage of $19.32, averaging to $40,180 per year. Average hourly wages for the 50th percentile were $26.14, totaling $54,370 per year. Hourly average wages for the 75th percentile were $34.49, which totaled an annual wage of $71,740. The 90th percentile earned an average hourly wage of $45.22, totaling $94,050 per year.
Occupations directly related to the position of funeral director in the death care industry are administrative assistants, managers, embalmers, drivers, cremation specialists and bereavement counselors. Careers related to cemetery management, sales of products directly related to the death care industry, funeral plan sales and preneed sales are also choices. Preneed is a term used for purchasing a funeral plan before death, giving the consumer the opportunity to pay a lower price, as opposed to inflated prices in the future, for their funeral by paying far before the event occurs. Another field of work commonly associated with funeral directors are ministers and religious officials. Funeral directors work closely with these people to plan religious funerary services and rituals. The BLS also reports that related occupations are surgeons, physicians, psychologists and social workers. Careers in these fields will often cross paths with funeral directors.
Sources of Additional Information
Students seeking a school offering the Mortuary Science program may write to The National Funeral Directors Association, located at 13625 Bishop's Drive, Brookfield, Wisconsin, 53005. The NFDA also has a website located at nfda.org. Prospective students may also contact The American Board of Funeral Service Education located at 3414 Ashland Avenue, Suite G, St. Joseph, Missouri, 64506. The ABFSE also has a website with this information at abfse.org. State licensing boards will have the necessary information for obtaining state licenses and requirements for maintaining those licenses. To learn more about funeral directors and the work they do, The Occupational Outlook Quarterly may be consulted, found in most libraries. The article is titled "Jobs in weddings and funerals: Working with the betrothed and the bereaved." This article is also available for viewing online in .pdf format at: http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2006/winter/art03.pdf.
For information about financial aid available to mortuary students, FAFSA.gov should be consulted. Prospective students will need to fill out the free application there and enter the codes of the schools they plan to apply to. Students who are seeking an example of a full, detailed and well-written program description may view Arapahoe Community College's program description at: www.arapahoe.edu/sites/default/files/shared/images-pdf/deptprgrms/a-z/mortuary-science/program-guide-mortuary-2011-12.pdf.
With offerings for part-time, full-time and online education, Arapahoe leads its competitors for options. Under the direction of Martha Thayer, this program is well-designed to provide students with a complete education in the funeral profession, whether on campus or online. Students who plan to seek a campus-based accelerated program should visit Worsham College's website. This intensive program is designed to give students experience and knowledge needed to enter the field in one year's time.