Mortuary assistants work in morgues, hospitals and funeral homes and assist morticians and pathologists with their work. Tasks performed by mortuary assistants include preparing the deceased for a funeral, moving the body from the hospital to the funeral home, or preparing paperwork. Another name for mortuary assistant is mortuary technician. Mortuary assistants work at funeral homes, crematoriums, city and county morgues, and hospital morgues under the direction of licensed funeral directors or pathologists.
Mortuary assistants should have at minimum a high school diploma or GED. However, employers require at least a two-year associates degree in Mortuary Science.
If you plan to become a Funeral Director or Mortician, you will need a four-year degree in Mortuary Science. There are approximately 58 institutions in the United States offering Mortuary Science degrees, and many of these institutions also offer the requisite two-year degree for Mortuary Assistants. Many of these schools are community colleges, which offer very affordable programs and flexible hours so you can attend school while working.
Mortuary science degrees are not typically available through distance learning programs, but students can complete certification requirements in some states such as South Carolina through distance learning programs.
What Do Mortuary Assistants Do?
Mortuary assistants perform a variety of tasks, depending on where they are employed. In a hospital, city or county morgue, they may assist the pathologist during an autopsy, handing him instruments, preparing and sealing samples, and recording details. Mortuary assistants are usually the ones moving bodies from storage units to autopsy tables, and transferring bodies from the morgue to the funeral home. At funeral homes, mortuary assistants may perform light housekeeping duties as well as assist the funeral director during embalming and preparation of the body.
Mortuary assistants must be honest, reliable, dependable, and comfortable working with the deceased. Mortuary assistants who work at a city or hospital morgue may have a more scientific job. They may assist the pathologist, and must be familiar with medical terminology. It's a given that they have to be comfortable working with the deceased, and be comfortable in a medical or scientific environment.
Summary of Job Duties and Tasks
Job duties for morgue attendants vary according to their place of employment. A typical day for a mortuary attendant may include the following tasks:
- Housekeeping and cleaning duties.
- Admitting and releasing cadavers to and from the morgue.
- Assisting the pathologist at an autopsy, including handling tools and specimens.
- Transferring bodies from hospital floors to the morgue.
- Transferring bodies from storage units to the autopsy table.
- Completing routine paperwork under the direction of the pathologist or mortician.
- Confirming details about the deceased, such as identity.
- Recording details about the deceased when the body is transferred out of the morgue to a funeral home.
Like the medical and emergency services field, mortuary employees are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While you may find a job that has a set schedule, it's more likely that you'll have a set schedule, plus "on call" hours to come in for overtime when needed. You must be able to work evenings, nights, weekends and holidays, since many people prefer to inter the deceased within 24 to 72 hours of their passing.
The work varies daily, with some days routine and other days filled with unexpected work. Mortuary assistants working with a pathologist may find the work more varied than those working for a funeral home; each case brought to a pathologist varies, and if you enjoy working in a medical or scientific field, you'll enjoy learning through your work.
How to Get Started
If you are interested in a career as a mortuary assistant, there are several steps to follow.
- Earn your high school diploma or GED.
- Explore a part time job at a funeral home. Even if you're just answering the phones or doing the filing, you'll be in the job environment where you'll work eventually and can tell if you'd like it or not.
- Review and apply to appropriate two-year degree programs for mortuary assistants.
- Complete the necessary coursework and prepare your resume.
- Consider completing an internship if available at your school.
There's always a demand for mortuary assistants and technicians, and many people enter this field and eventually pursue a career path as a mortician or funeral director. While the pay rate for a mortuary assistant is slightly less than a mortician, the job market is relatively stable. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the job market is growing at about 11% per year for the mortuary industry, slightly faster than the overall job market. The average entry level salary is around $30,000 per year, with the average salary nationwide $30,000 - $50,000.
Mortuary assistants perform vital tasks that help pathologists and morticians. As a career path, it offers steady employment and a good starting salary. Although it requires a two-year college degree, most people with a GED or high school diploma can complete the coursework in the allotted time, and find many employment opportunities nationwide. If you are comfortable in the work environment, a mortuary assistant career may be a good choice.