I want to work with the dead

My family says I’ve always been a little morbid… so how do I find a career working with dead people?

Our elder has some wide-ranging suggestions: have you considered cosmetology for the dead?

Dear EWC

Currently, I am 17 years old, female, living in my hometown in Alaska. With only 1 3/4 years of school left, I have been doing a lot of souls searching for what I want to do with my life. I have bounced back and forth between a few career options but I’m unsure of which one is best for me. I have always wanted to move to England, but they aren’t in the best place right now and frankly, I’m not sure if they would even want me six to eight years from now. Now, I have always been a little morbid. My family has always joked about me acting and dressing like Wednesday Adams and how I’ll become a mortician. I used to roll my eyes at those comments but now that kind of work appeals to me as I’m thinking about my future. All those crimes show like iZombie or CSI or Bones show doctors or coroners in basements or morgues, and that sort of career fits me and my likes (I know those shows are not always the best representation of those jobs) but I’ve done some Googling and I want to look into it more. I always knew I wanted to go to college, even though my family is dirt poor. But if I wanted to be a mortician, I would need an associate (minimum) or a bachelor’s degree in mortuary science and embalming. Now, I don’t know if I’m smart enough to go to college relying fully on scholarships, but even then, math has always been my worst subject and I hate it with a passion. On the other hand, becoming a medical coroner seems exciting. Also, I read that coroners don’t always have to be physicians, so that means less college to pay for. I guess what I’m asking is which job should I focus on that requires you to work with the dead or on the dead, doesn’t require much college or math (I hate math) and might be able to get me to England someday.

Folk replies

You are a very wise woman to be thinking ahead about what you want to do with your life. You have always been drawn to morbid things, so you are considering a career in which you would work with the dead. The thing is you aren’t quite sure in which capacity you would like to do this; the only thing you are sure of at this point is that the job you choose shouldn’t require many colleges or much math. The good news is that there are a variety of morgue jobs that you might enjoy doing that doesn’t require either one, such as morgue attendant, autopsy attendant, morgue technician, and morgue intake assistant. These jobs tend to be entry-level positions that don’t require prior training.
The kinds of duties you would be expected to perform with these jobs include receiving and preparing bodies for autopsy, moving refrigerated bodies to the table, laying out instruments, locating supplies, making histology slides, preparing specimens, suturing incisions after postmortem examinations, taking photos, keeping records, decontaminating equipment and thoroughly cleaning and maintaining the morgue area.

An associate degree in a health field or an associate degree in mortuary science could make getting one of these jobs a little easier, but it is not a requirement. Morgue attendants do, however, need physical strength because they often have to position bodies and lift human remains that weigh more than 50 pounds.
If you are willing to go to school for a year or two, you might also want to consider becoming an embalmer or a forensic morgue technician. Embalmers preserve bodies by replacing natural bodily fluids with chemicals like formaldehyde.
To work as an embalmer, you will need to complete a one-year to two-year training program that teaches embalming principles, methods and biohazard control. You will also need to pass a test for an embalming license.

Forensic morgue technicians help gather autopsy evidence under the supervision of a pathologist as part of a criminal investigation whenever there is a suspicious death. Duties include removing organs and fluids, drawing blood samples, preserving forensic evidence and collecting fingerprints. To qualify for this job, you would need at least an associate degree in either biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or nursing, but a bachelor’s degree is often preferred. If you are interested in pursuing either of these options, here is a site for a list of mortuary science schools in Alaska you might want to contact:
One final option you may want to consider is cosmetology for the dead. This is not something you hear a lot about, but it’s an important service offered by many funeral homes. Mortuary makeup artists are responsible for making deceased persons look as close as possible to the way they looked when they were alive. Those who are interested in this field generally take cosmetology courses and build their experience by working in funeral homes. Because of some of the inherent risks associated with working on the deceased (many corpses continue to carry potentially harmful organisms), makeup artists may also be required to supply evidence of vaccinations. Even though you will wear protective equipment, including gloves and a lab coat, while working, it’s important to be protected.

You are correct when you say that coroners don’t always need to be physicians. But because they do have to be either elected or appointed, unless you want to get involved in politics, this is probably not a good choice of career for you. Also, in England, coroners have to be qualified lawyers.

I have given you a variety of jobs that involve working with the dead to think about. I hope one or two of them interests you. Because rules and regulations differ from state to state as well as from country to country, I am not sure which of these jobs — if any — you would be able to do in England. Perhaps a better idea would be for you to save up your money from the job you have here at home to take a trip to England. While you are visiting there, you can talk to your English counterparts and check out the job situation in your field to see if it makes sense for you to emigrate there.

I hope this helps. I am always here if you’d like to talk more about this. Good luck with your future plans — whatever you decide. I hope you will be able to fulfill your dream of visiting England someday.

Letter #: 450498
Category: Career

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