While many people are put off by the concept and process of dying, others feel naturally compelled to pursue careers that put them face to face with death every day. From the desire to help grieving families to wanting to find justice for crime victims, people are drawn to working with the dead for a wide variety of personal reasons. Whether a person wants to work in the funeral service industry or as a member of law enforcement, many jobs working with the deceased exist in various industries.
Funeral Service Workers
Funeral service workers are professionals involved in planning and preparing for funerals. This includes funeral directors, embalming technicians, funeral attendants and crematory operators. Funeral directors are in charge of making arrangements for funeral and memorial services, which includes meeting with the deceased's family and choosing a casket or urn, picking floral arrangements and arranging other details. They may also console grieving relatives, make burial arrangements or obtain essential documents, such as death certificates. Funeral attendants assist funeral directors in setting up for funeral services, and may be working toward becoming directors themselves. Embalming technicians are in charge of preparing remains through a process known as embalming, which temporarily preserves the body and halts the decomposition process, and crematory operators transform remains into ashes, to be permanently housed in an urn or similar container.
Crime Scene Investigators
When an individual passes away under suspicious circumstances, crime scene investigators, also known as forensic science technicians, are brought on the scene to collect evidence. They scour crime scenes in search of any potential evidence that could help law enforcement find the perpetrator of a crime, if one has been committed. This could include such things as hair strands, carpet fibers, bodily fluids or fingerprints. While they primarily focus on the scene surrounding the deceased, they do come into direct contact with human remains.
Medical Examiners and Coroners
Medical examiners and coroners work closely with both law enforcement and crime scene investigators, and they are in charge of determining the manner and specific cause of death. In some jurisdictions these two roles are combined in one position, but in others they are performed by two different people. Coroners are called in whenever a person passes away suddenly -- whether things seem suspicious on the surface or not -- to make a preliminary determination about the manner of death. They report their findings to the medical examiner and recommend whether or not an investigation into the cause of death needs to be conducted. Coroners are also tasked with notifying the deceased's family and initiating a death certificate. Medical examiners, also known as forensic pathologists, are in charge of discovering the cause of a person's death by performing a postmortem procedure known as an autopsy. They carefully examine the exterior of the body as well as the internal organs to look for any red flags that indicate foul play. They are often called to testify about their findings when criminal cases move to trial.
Police Officers and Homicide Detectives
Police officers and homicide detectives don't work with the deceased as closely as other professionals, but they do encounter human remains throughout their careers. If a person passes away suddenly, the police are usually called in to make sure a crime hasn't been committed, and if it's determined that foul play occurred, a homicide investigator will take on the case. Homicide investigators use the evidence obtained by crime scene investigators and the findings of the coroner or medical examiner to search for the perpetrator of a homicide and bring him to justice.
- CNN: 10 Jobs Dealing With Death
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Funeral Directors
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Police and Detectives
- Association of American Medical Colleges: Specialty Information: Pathology
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Forensic Science Technicians
- Boulder County, CO: Coroner
- Washington State Legislature: Coroner or Medical Examiner: Duties
- Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images