Since 2012, Salt Lake Community College has been helping students who want to pursue a career in mortuary science.
Mortuary science graduates will find a variety of professional opportunities, such as funeral directing or embalming, as well as other positions in crematoriums, cemeteries, or even sales of headstones and caskets. The amount of multifaceted skills to learn may come as a surprise to some.
“Our curriculum is not just science-based like anatomy, microbiology, pathology … I try to help people to understand our curriculum is also a part of social sciences,” says David Hess, director of the mortuary science program.
In the beginning embalming course, students have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities where they learn the proper techniques of embalming.
Because SLCC is a licensed funeral home in the state of Utah, there is a full-functioning embalming lab available for the course.
“We work with a local funeral home to procure those who are indigent and have passed on,” Hess explains. “The funeral home has a contract with Salt Lake County that will get those cases, and when I schedule an embalming, we get a person from the funeral home to bring them to the school so the students can learn the embalming process.”
Students are taught proper etiquette in each course, including lifting.
“If someone has died in a very precarious situation, like at home or in an apartment building, we teach the students lifting techniques, moving the person to the next location,” Hess says.
In restorative art, students learn about color theory, how to apply cosmetics, and how colors and makeup appear under different lightings for funeral services. Their skills are put to the test in the restorative art lab.
“Students learn facial features and facial marking … they have to recreate a complete face of someone famous out of wax,” Hess explains.
Mortuary science classes consist of conventional lectures built around the curriculum in the national board exam, which students take at the end of the program.
Students learn about the business side of funeral homes, which includes accounting, business law, mortuary law and funeral home management.
Psychology is also taught in the required Funeral Service/ Psychology /Counseling course, where students learn basic counseling concepts of grief and mourning that are needed as a funeral director.
“In funeral directing, you have to understand and be respectful of all cultures and religions … it’s not just a science or an art, it’s a science, social science, and there is the business aspect,” Hess says.