Continuing Education: An Ethical Issue

By Robert W. Ninker, CAE
It took us almost fifteen years to get a basic requirement for continuing education in many states. While the licensees may not have been all that enthusiastic about the idea, the Department of Professional Regulation was a long term opponent because of the added cost of regulation.

There are still many states which have yet to implement any form of continuing education either because of funeral director/embalmer resistance or opposition by regulatory authorities. Wherever the opposition lies, funeral service has an obligation to demonstrate its eagerness, not just a willingness, to keep itself competently informed.

Continuing education also has the effect of driving out the marginal licensees and that isn’t a bad idea either. For example, how can someone who worked in funeral service before the 1984 FTC Rule, ADA requirements, OSHA rules or a host of other regulatory requirements expect to leave their current occupation and drop right back into funeral service. No wonder the Federal Wage and Hour administrators don’t and won’t consider funeral service practitioners as professionals.

Until every state and the funeral service licensees they regulate are motivated to adopt even a minimal level of required continuing education, the profession will “get no respect.”

Let’s step away from funeral directing and embalming, just for a minute, and look at those who are writing preneed contracts for funeral services around the country. Not only is there no continuing education requirement for a preneed seller, there isn’t even an iota of preparation required by most states before an unlicensed person starts telemarketing or knocking on doors. In most states, there is no training or testing of competency for persons calling on the state’s citizens. Worse, in some states, an organization can sell preneed without even being affiliated with a provider! As a result, one man firms spring up which can go on a selling spree, using your General Price List, without either your knowledge or consent.

A number of state associations have addressed this matter, but there is bold opposition to requiring a sales person to prove they even understand their organization’s instructions, much less being required to know what the regulatory act says or means.

Ask yourself, could I, a non-licensed person, get a preneed permit in your state and sell preneed without any designated training? If so, how is the public being served or protected? You may be inclined to say or think, “Yes, but breaking our preneed act would constitute a felony.” In many states, people cannot be found guilty if they didn’t know they were breaking a law — believe it or not.

In summary, could we reasonably agree that any individual who is meeting the public, offering funeral services, should at least know the laws, regulations and administrative requirements? That is an ethical question you and your leaders need to answer. From the FUNERAL ETHICS ASSOCIATION’s perspective, you owe the public a competent representative!

Back now to continuing education. Does it matter whether you know about the laws and regulations in your state, the changing FTC rules, wage and hour rules and perhaps a half dozen legislative changes in your profession? Serving people, ever more competently, requires all of us to keep current.

Again, from an ethical practice perspective, continuing education is essential in the long run. In the short run, competency is at risk.

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