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A funeral director — still sometimes referred to as a mortician or an undertaker — coordinates funeral rites for families as well as caring for the bodies of the deceased. Most funeral directors are also trained and licensed as embalmers who prepare the body for burial by replacing biological fluids with preservatives. In the US, all states except Colorado require that funeral directors be licensed, although the specific qualifications for a funeral director license vary according to the state in which the director practices. All states require a high school diploma and most — with the exceptions of Alabama and Hawaii — require two years of study at a mortuary school or an associate's degree, completion of a formal apprenticeship, and successfully passing a written examination in order to obtain a funeral director license. Some states additionally require that a funeral director also be trained and licensed as an embalmer.
Although individuals in the industry are often trained and licensed as both funeral directors and embalmers, the work duties of the two positions vary considerably. Funeral directors work in very public roles that can include sales, event coordination and legal documentation. Embalmers, on the other hand, conduct their roles privately and their work involves specialized training in human anatomy. Some states offer both an embalmer license and a funeral director license with different requirements. Others require that an individual in the field obtain both types of licenses while a few states offer only a mortuary science license, which covers both specializations.
For these reasons, graduation from a mortuary school specifically is not required by all states for an individual to obtain a funeral director license. Most states do, however, require one to two years of this vocation-specific educational preparation and those that do not require some amount of college credits if not an associate's degree in the arts. As noted above, the exceptions to this rule are found in Alabama and Hawaii.
All US states require a supervised apprenticeship period to obtain a funeral director license. Again, the degree of this requirement varies from state to state and can range from six months to up to three years. During this period, an apprentice observes and assists in all aspects of a funeral director's duties including casket sales, funeral planning with the family, coordination of the funeral service and coordinating the legal documents that must be filed in the event of a death.
A funeral director license may require successful completion of a national licensure examination or "boards," again depending upon the state of practice. For those states that combine the roles of funeral director and embalmers, an individual must pass a test to obtain a mortuary science license. Finally, well over 75 percent of states require some form of yearly continuing education (CE) credits in order to maintain a funeral director license.
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