U mortuary science program one of a kind in Midwest

Joanna Dornfeld

Some University students work with sterile surgical tools under glaring lights – and the distinct smell of disinfectant.

They don’t practice their craft in an emergency room. Rather, these students can’t do anything to save the lives of people coming through the doors.

The students work in an embalming lab.

The University’s mortuary science program is one of only five baccalaureate programs in the nation and the only one in the Midwest. For the first time in its 33-year history, the mortuary science program has added a clinical rotation class. There is no other class like it in the country.

“It’s the only medical school in the country that covers prenatal through death,” said Steve Tibbetts, mortuary science teaching specialist.

“Not only do they read about it in the textbook and they talk about it in class, they get a chance to apply it,” he said.

Most students are admitted to the mortuary science program as juniors and must work in a funeral home five hours per week in addition to their coursework.

Each clinical rotation lasts seven and a half weeks, and students work in four types of funeral homes. The students assist with all portions of funeral preparation including embalming and funeral arrangements.

“I think it’s good because you are meeting a lot of people, but its really hard to work into your schedule,” said Shanna Sonnek, senior mortuary science major. “It needs some work, I think.”

There is a high turnover rate of morticians in the first five years of work, said Michael LuBrant, mortuary science assistant professor and director.

The clinical rotation introduces students to the realities of mortuary science before they are too far into the program and applies the theories learned in the classroom with practical skills, LuBrant said.

“Funeral service is very difficult for people,” said Mike Mathews, mortuary science associate professor. “It’s a very demanding profession.”

Clinical rotation students also meet with mortuary science faculty bi-weekly to ask questions and discuss the program.

Through the class, students are able to network with people in the industry.

LuBrant said a connection with the funeral home community is important. He works in conjunction with the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association and the National Funeral Directors Association to correlate classroom learning with the skills needed in the mortuary field.

The evolution of the mortuary science program produces graduates better prepared to enter the funeral service field.

Mortuary science students finish up their studies in a practicum course in which they intern at a funeral home. The clinical rotation class prepares students for what they will face after graduation.

“It kind of gives me a taste of what mortuary science is going to be like,” said Loan Hoang, a fourth-year mortuary science student. “I had no clue what I was walking into. I’d never been in a funeral home.”