Mortuary Science program hits ten-year milestone

Kevin PattersonKevin Patterson, head of the Mortuary Science program at DMACC, recently took some time out of his schedule to discuss the ten-year anniversary of the program, the path that lead him here to DMACC, the changes he’s seen in the business, and what he sees for the future of the program.

Patterson got his start in the profession at a young age, accepting a job a friend offered him at a funeral home. He believed he would be washing cars and mowing the lawn, but after only two weeks he found himself helping out in the embalming room.

“I found I had a calling for it around that time and I’ve been doing it ever since then,” Patterson said. 

Since graduating college he has gone on to work as a funeral director in Indiana for three years, seven years part-time as a funeral director in Florida, an instructor at St. Petersburg College, also in Florida, before accepting the position to come to Iowa to develop DMACC’s newly-formed Mortuary Science Program.

“I wanted to get back to the Midwest, I’m originally from Missouri, so this was a very exciting opportunity for us,” he said.  The program held a celebration on September 16 and 17, which included a special appearance from keynote speaker Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., C.T, who is the founder and director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. The event included two full days of activities and two presentations from Dr. Wolfelt, one of which lasting six hours.

Patterson said the program typically takes a little over a year to complete.

“An Associate’s degree is required to enter the program, then there’s a couple different options. You can pursue either the three-semester degree or the five-semester degree, with the average length of time it takes to complete the course being 14 months.”

Upon completion of the program, graduates are required to complete a one-year internship before receiving their license. The pay during the first year internship is between $28,000-30,000.  The first year after receiving the license the pay will be bumped up to around $35,000. Information regarding state base salaries for funeral directors can be found at the Iowa Funeral Directors Association website (

There really is no need to advertise the program, as Patterson has discovered, noting that over half of the programs current enrollment is from out-of-state applicants taking advantage of the newer web-based option. These students are hearing about the program mostly by word-of-mouth, though the fact that DMACC offers a unique degree in the Mortuary Science field that many surrounding states do not, is also a major attraction for potential students.

“Our graduates will have a diploma that allows them to work as a Funeral Director as well as in the embalming field. In many of the surrounding states, these are separate degrees,” Patterson said.

Patterson explained a few traits that are valuable in the profession: “Compassion is essential, you have to be very goal-oriented and organized; you only have three days to get everything done perfectly.”

“It’s not necessarily easy to work with people who are only coming to you at their worst. But it’s also very satisfying to know that you are helping someone who is coming to you at their worst time,” Patterson said.

While Patterson acknowledges that death is the one thing that everyone must experience at least once in life, he explained the traditional form of burial has shifted in the last ten years to cremation. Raising from single digits in the 2004 to around 32% today, cremation seems to be the way of the future.

“I think it’s because we are more of a mobile society today, people are moving around more and putting down roots less.”

No matter the reason for the increase, the profession of Mortuary Science is not going to disappear anytime soon. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *