Under new law, aspiring embalmers can experience field earlier

Measure allows six-month apprenticeship before Kansans enroll in mortuary program

By: - April 3, 2023 2:23 pm
A view of the Statehouse inner dome on Feb. 20, 2023

A new law aims to attract more workers to the embalming field. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A new law allows potential embalmers to work with corpses in an attempt to understand the field.

The legislation, signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly on March 31, gives aspiring embalmers the chance to complete a six-month apprenticeship in the year before they attend mortuary science school. The change was proposed by the Kansas Funeral Directors Association, who said people needed to experience the day-to-day reality of embalming before committing to the field. 

During a March 8 Senate committee hearing on the bill, Pam Scott, KFDA executive director, said sometimes people had been unprepared. Scott gave several examples of difficult cases for embalmers, such as victims of car accidents and children who had died. 

“They may find it intriguing, they may be a very caring and empathetic person and want to help others, they may enjoy science, but they’ve never had the opportunity to work in a funeral home, much less embalm dead human bodies,” Scott said. “When they get in, they may discover they can’t deal with the death of a child.”

To be licensed as an embalmer in Kansas, an applicant has to undergo a year-long mortuary science program, pass a national board examination and then serve a 12-month apprenticeship under the supervision of a licensed embalmer, with some exceptions. 

The bill, originally proposed as House Bill 2262, lets future embalmers split the apprenticeship, serving half of the time before attending mortuary science school. Scott said the industry needs more workers and the legislation could cut down on the time it takes to get a degree. 

“Kansas, like other states, is experiencing a shortage of licensed embalmers,” Scott said. “Providing a split apprenticeship would be beneficial for those interested in entering the profession. It could shorten the time it takes for an applicant to become licensed and weed out applicants that later determine an embalming profession is not for them.”

Kansas City Kansas Community College offers the only mortuary science degree in the state, with 34 people enrolled in the program in 2021, according to the college’s data. Across the state, 23 people are currently working in mortuary arts apprenticeships, according to the Kansas State Board of Mortuary Arts.  

The bill passed the Kansas House of Representatives 121-0 and the state Senate 38-0 through a consent calendar vote. Rep. Ronald Ellis, a Meriden Republican who introduced the bill on the House floor in February, made a series of puns about the legislation. 

“I was scared to death to do this,” Ellis said during the February bill introduction. “I was buried under the stress of all this. Some people said it was dead on arrival, since I was carrying it, but I said it was a dead ringer to pass. So once we pass this thing, I think we can put it to rest.” 

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.