Gerontology Social Worker

Gerontology is the scientific study of the aging process as it pertains to cognitive, psychological, physical, and biological changes. The field also covers the social and cultural aspects of senescence. In social work roles, gerontologists assess the needs of aging Americans and coordinate care. Clinical social workers and counselors provide therapy to address mental illness or cognitive distress. Social workers assisting the elderly commonly face issues with personal or community neglect, substance abuse, and antisocial behaviors such as depression and hoarding.

According to projections based on the U.S. Census, one in five Americans will be over 65 years of age by 2030.

According to projections based on the U.S. Census, one in five Americans will be over 65 years of age by 2030. As a growing number of adults transition into retirement and Americans live longer, social work for the elderly meets a key need in American society.

The primary role of a gerontological social worker is the protection of and advocacy for an underserved demographic of the community. As the baby boomer generation retires, more gerontology social workers will need to fight for better healthcare options, government assistance, and community resources. These social workers also secure resources to help the elderly maintain intellectual acuity and social interaction. As healthcare costs skyrocket, patients will need assistance with budgeting on a fixed income while finding adequate medical assistance.

As the baby boomer generation retires, more gerontology social workers will need to fight for better healthcare options, government assistance, and community resources.

Geriatric social workers regularly interview patients and their family members in order to build a rapport, identify changes in behavior, and monitor progress. As licensed clinical social worker Karen Graziano states in her article "Preparing for the Future: A Career in Gerontological Social Work," patients often need positive support and consistent human contact to maintain confidence in the face of psychological or physical issues.

These encounters are meticulously documented to trace behavioral trends. Counselors compile information in the event that the patient requires supplemental psychological referrals. Depending on the location, regular home consultations may be necessary to assess living conditions and determine if the patient requires in-house assistance or relocation to an assisted living facility.

What's the Difference Between a Gerontology Social Worker and a Gerontology Counselor?

While social work and counseling are interrelated professions, some differences do apply. Gerontology social work requires strong communication skills with both patients and medical and governing bodies. Social workers use their liaising and negotiating expertise to ensure that their clients get the best care and assistance possible. Professionals can enter certain jobs in the field of social work with a bachelor's degree. To become a case manager or gerontology advocate in state and local government, you need a master's degree.

By comparison, gerontology counselors require a master's degree and specialized training. Counselors address psychological issues and administer advanced therapies to patients. These professionals confront depression, dementia, and neglect, and work with clients and their families to improve overall quality of living. Gerontology counselors typically work in hospices, nursing homes, and adult care facilities, while social workers often migrate between professional offices and private homes or assisted living facilities.

Education Needed to Become a Gerontology Social Worker

Geriatric social work jobs require different educational requirements. Healthcare and welfare professionals require training in introductory-level social work theory, sociology, and the fundamentals of psychology. At the bachelor's level, potential gerontology social workers can specialize in geriatric mental health and substance abuse. A bachelor's degree can help graduates find work as caseworkers.

After earning a clinical social work degree, candidates need to complete approximately 3,000 hours of supervised clinical counseling in order to qualify for licensure.

To enter management positions or provide clinical care, students should continue to the master's level. As the minimum requirement for many upper-level and therapeutic positions, a master's opens many more career possibilities. Master's students can specialize in areas such as psychological counseling, governmental policy, and leadership and management.

All states require social workers and counselors to obtain professional licensing. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) administers licensing exams for all levels of social work. The National Board of Certified Counselors monitors and administers exams in the field of counseling. Depending on the level of exam, candidates may need to complete a prior internship, practicum, or documented supervised hours. After earning a clinical social work degree, candidates need to complete approximately 3,000 hours of supervised clinical counseling in order to qualify for licensure. Likewise, gerontological counselors need around 3,000 hours of supervised practice.

The following list details the occupations and skills associated with each educational level.

  • Bachelor's Degree in Gerontology Social Work

    A bachelor's program teaches students about social welfare institutions, current healthcare initiatives, human behavior, and the foundations of social justice. This degree prepares students for one-on-one work and small group casework. Graduates may obtain entry-level administrative positions or continue on to a master's degree.

  • Master's Degree in Gerontology Social Work

    A master's degree expands specialization, career, and management opportunities. Graduates may sit for the ASWB's master's level, advanced generalist, or clinical exams. The advanced generalist and clinical exams require specific training in communication, care delivery, and administration. Both mandate two years of prior supervised experience or 3,000 logged clinical hours.

  • Doctoral Degree in Gerontology Social Work

    Students interested in academic and high-level administrative positions may consider a doctorate in gerontological social work. A doctorate prepares degree-holders to conduct independent research and teach new generations of professionals. Students hone skills in quantitative and qualitative research analysis and pedagogical theory.

Accreditation for Gerontology Social Work Programs

All geriatric social work programs rely on accreditation to maintain professional standards. In short, accreditation is a guarantee of quality. It attests that your school adheres to certain national educational requirements. Without accreditation, your future employers and colleagues will not know the value of your degree. Students with unaccredited degrees cannot advance into master's or doctoral programs.

The U.S. Department of Education has approved six regional governing bodies to grant accreditation to colleges and universities. For example, schools in the Pacific Northwest receive accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), while schools in the Southeast rely on the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Students in social work and counseling should always attend a regionally accredited program. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) also reviews social work programs and departments.

Before you enroll in a gerontology social work or counseling program, make sure that your school holds accreditation from the CSWE and a regional body. Look for accreditation on the school's website, or search for the institution in the CSWE's directory of accredited schools. For more on social work licensing, visit this website.

Licensure and Practicum Requirements to Become a Gerontology Social Worker

All states require social workers and counselors to hold a professional license. Since licensure is administered at the state level, specific requirements will vary by location. The American Counseling Association lists comparable state requirements for counseling positions.

To prepare for licensure, students typically complete internships or practicum projects while pursuing their social work degrees. This training provides real-world experience and allows students to accumulate supervised clinical or professional hours. These experiences count as preparation for a specialized exam such as the advanced generalist or clinical exam.

All four exams offered by this association are multiple choice and take approximately four hours.

Before applying for licensure, you need to pass the relevant ASWB exam. All four exams offered by this association are multiple choice and take approximately four hours. The tests cover a variety of subjects, including patient analysis and monitoring, healthcare administration, and accurate documentation. The bachelor's and general master's exams cost $230, while the advanced generalist and clinical exams cost $260.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) also provides elective credentials to help individuals specialize in a particular area or gain professional training. Candidates may become certified in alcohol and drug use; casework management; hospice care; and basic, clinical, and advanced levels of gerontology.

Since states regulate geriatric social work jobs, standards of education and preparatory training depend on local needs and resources. Before settling on an educational program, research your state's regulations governing your career path. Does your state require a master's, or will a bachelor's degree suffice? Since all states require the ASWB exam, most accredited educational programs provide adequate preparation for the test.

While state licenses do not apply in other states, you may hold licensure in more than one state simultaneously. Initial state licenses cost $45-$85, with renewals required every two years. License renewals typically require 20-40 continuing education credits and a $45-$150 fee.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job opportunities in social work will rise 16% by 2026, well over the national average growth rate for all occupations. Gerontology social workers and counselors care for individual patients and groups in order to increase quality of living. Social workers also communicate with state and national government departments as geriatric advocates and proponents of Medicaid and other support systems. Social workers provide assistance at hospices, adult care centers, hospitals, and outpatient facilities.

In terms of gerontology salary, the following table lists the median earnings of social workers throughout their career. As more and more Americans surpass the age of 65, families increasingly seek guidance to help their loved ones transition into late-life stages. Gerontology social work is already understaffed, and the situation is likely to become dire by 2030 without more dedicated professionals entering the field.

Average Salary by Experience for Geriatric Social Workers
Entry Level (0-5 Years) $40,000
Mid-Level (5-10 Years) $44,000
Experienced (10-20 Years) $45,000
Late (20+ Years) $59,000
Source: PayScale (June 2018)

How to Find a Job as a Licensed Social Worker

It's never too early to plan ahead for your professional career. Once you have entered a degree program, start your search for internships or practicum projects. These experiences, whether volunteer or paid, demonstrate your passion for geriatric social work. Internship and practicums usually count towards supervised clinical or therapeutic hours needed to qualify for upper-level certification exams.

Joining relevant social work organizations can also help you enter the field and increase your visibility. Societies such as the American Geriatrics Society provide venues for networking and relevant information about geriatric government initiatives. The NASW hosts elective credentials, continuing education opportunities, and a career center for community members. Individuals can also stay up to date on new ideas and concerns in gerontology by following news centers and magazines like the New Social Worker.

Gerontology Social Workers by Industry
Industry Annual Mean Wage
Hospitals; state, local, and private $58,490
Local government, excluding education and hospitals $52,900
Ambulatory healthcare services $48,340
State government, excluding education and hospitals $46,120
Individual and family services $40,800
  • American Society on Aging Dedicated to increasing awareness of gerontological issues, ASA brings together professionals from diverse specializations. Resources and discussions focus on the social, physical, emotional, economic and spiritual impacts of senescence.
  • Association Gerontology Education in Social Work AGESW provides teaching assistance and tools for educators dedicated to gerontology social work. Join this society to receive regular emails on current initiatives and present your work at the AGESW's national conferences.
  • Gerontological Society of America This society focuses on the scientific study of aging. The society provides access to scholarly journals like The Gerontologist, as well as career services designed to increase professional engagement with gerontology.
  • American Counseling Association ACA combines counseling innovation and awareness with professional assistance. Members receive benefits such as discounted professional liability insurance. ACA also maintains a vibrant career center for gerontological counselors.
  • School Social Work Association of America Geared towards academics and researchers, SSWAA focuses on social work in education. Members may access professional liability insurance, professional advocacy, and career development.