Geriatric Social Worker

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Geriatric Social Worker

Education and Training: Associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree

Salary: Median—$40,080 per year

Employment Outlook: Excellent

Definition and Nature of the Work

Social workers help people function in their environments, deal with their relationships, and solve personal and family problems. Geriatric social work is a division of social work concerned with the welfare of the elderly. Geriatric social workers try to improve the quality of life for senior citizens and help alleviate some of the negative aspects of aging. They help senior citizens enjoy happier, more productive lives.

Geriatric social workers are employed in a variety of settings and have a wide range of duties. Most geriatric social workers specialize in one of three areas. One of these areas is assessing the needs of senior citizens. These social workers are often associated with community organizations, such as family service agencies or day care centers, many of which have outreach programs. The social workers may help decide which senior citizens need home health aides, special transportation, or similar services. With the help of such services, some elderly people may be able to live in their own homes when otherwise they would need nursing home care. Geriatric social workers are trained to recognize normal and abnormal aging patterns. They can suggest when an elderly client needs to see a doctor and can arrange for a visit. They can help a family decide whether it would be best to place the client in an institution.

Geriatric social workers also help the elderly deal with their problems. Many older adults are lonely. Social workers encourage clients to participate in group activities. Many workers are skilled in leading these activities or in arranging for others to lead. Some have a background in mental health. They may provide therapy for clients suffering from depression or anxiety (both common conditions among the elderly). Most social workers act as a link between their clients and the numerous confusing public and private programs designed for the aging. Social workers help their clients apply for appropriate services. They help sort out any problems in the delivery of these services. Social workers providing direct services can be found in many types of institutions, including retirement communities, nursing homes, hospitals, and employment programs for older adults.

A small number of geriatric social workers plan and organize services for the elderly. Every program or agency has an executive director or its equivalent. Large organizations may have many administrators. State and county long-range-planning bodies have no clients; their function is to estimate future needs and plan how these needs can best be met.

Geriatric social workers must enjoy working with older people and respect them. The reward of the occupation is having a strong rapport with the clients. Workers should be emotionally mature, objective, and sensitive to the needs of others. They must also be well organized and keep careful records.

Education and Training Requirements

Training in social work with a specialty in gerontology is available at the associate, bachelor's, and master's degree levels. A graduate degree with a specialization in aging is recommended. Some of the better jobs require advanced degrees. Training requirements may vary with geographic region; they tend to be higher in metropolitan versus rural areas. Consult your local guidance counselor.

Getting the Job

Your college placement office may be able to help you find a job. Consult the job listings in your local newspapers and on the Internet. You can also contact the organizations providing services for senior citizens in your area and ask for information interviews.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Geriatric social workers can advance to supervisory and administrative positions. The director of a small program may go on to run a larger organization.

The outlook for geriatric social workers is excellent, especially for those with advanced degrees. Because the number of senior citizens is increasing rapidly, the need for geriatric social workers will also rise.

Working Conditions

Geriatric social workers are employed in a variety of settings. Their services may be needed at retirement communities, nursing homes, state and government agencies, or hospices. Since the locations of employment may differ, the social worker might be providing service in a modern, well-lighted building one day and an older inner-city facility the next.

Where to Go for More Information

Association for Gerontology in Higher Education
1030 15th St. NW, Ste. 240
Washington, DC 20005-1503
(202) 289-9806

National Association of Social Workers
750 First St. NE, Ste. 700
Washington, DC 20002-4241
(202) 408-8600

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary widely. The median annual earnings of medical and public health social workers, such as geriatric social workers, were $40,080 in 2004. Benefits usually include medical insurance, life insurance, and paid vacations.