Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Geriatric Social Work
Gerontological social workers are professionals who meet the biological, social, and psychological needs of older adults; usually those over 65 years of age. According to the US Census Bureau, between the years, 2010 and 2050, the US is projected to see rapid growth of all individuals over the age of 65. In 2050 the number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to be 88.5 million, which is more than double the population of 40.2 million in 2010. The Council on Social Work Education reports that by 2030, 20 percent of the population will be age 65.
The importance of the baby boom generation (the fastest growing group in the US) in shaping the overall population is illustrated by the accelerated job growth for Geriatric Social Workers projected over the next decade – with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting 19 percent job growth (which is faster than average for all occupations) between the years of 2012 and 2022
Geriatric Social Workers Career Options
Sparked by the growth in an aging population, the demand for trained geriatric social workers will no doubt create excellent job prospects for individuals wishing to enter this field. This is especially true for geriatric social workers choosing to work in rural areas.
Geriatric social workers typically work a regular 40-hour workweek, but may work split shirts, evenings, nights and weekends, and holidays, depending on job venue and seniority. The median average wage, as reported by the BLS is 2012 was just over $44,200, annually. Individuals employed as home health aids made significantly less, at just over $20,000 per year. As with all occupations, salary is also dependent on education level, sector, and location.
Typical Employment Settings for a Geriatric Social Worker
Geriatric Social Workers are employed in a wide variety of settings, including:
- Mental health clinics
- Educational Institutions
- Human services agencies
- Adult Day Care Centers
- Adult Protective Services
- Elder Abuse Programs
- Alcohol and Substance Abuse Agencies
- Assisted Living Facilities
- Bereavement Services
- Employment and Volunteer Programs
- Faith-Based Organizations
- Family Services Organizations
- Private Practice
- Home Health Care
- Senior Centers and Senior Housing Facilities
- Information and Referral Agencies
- Life Care Communities
- Outpatient Primary Care Settings
- Planning Agencies
- Developmental Disabilities Service Areas
- Nursing Homes
- Nutrition Programs
- Private Care Management
- Protective Services
- Respite Programs
- Public Social Service Agencies
- Rehabilitation Centers
- Research Centers
- Veterans Services
Although not typical places of employment, geriatric social workers might also work in the design department or in quality control for a manufacturer of assistive technology and other products designed for the elderly. They may be employed by pharmaceutical companies to help in the development of marketing strategies, or in human resources for large and small companies, life-coaching settings, or in financial planning.
Geriatric social workers might provide counseling, run support groups, or advise seniors about long-term care, housing, and other support services. Some geriatric social workers even work in government, setting policies for the aged, and are often employed by, or volunteer for non-profit agencies.
Learn more about how to become a geriatric social worker.
Ways a Geriatric Social Worker Can Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate and Increase His or Her Salary
A bachelor’s degree in social work lays the groundwork for a career as a geriatric social worker, and trains an individual in gerontology competencies, such as general skills, writing, communicating, project management, and ethics. A major in psychology, sociology, or a related field may also qualify individuals for entry-level jobs, especially in small community agencies.
To widen career choices, as well as increase desirably as a job candidate in a clinical setting, geriatric social workers must have a master’s degree and two years of post-graduate experience in a supervised clinical setting. Clinical social workers in the field of geriatrics must also be licensed in the state in which they practice.
Advancement to a supervisory position, assistant director, program manager, or executive director of a social service agency, work in government, research or teaching usually requires an advanced degree and related work experience.
Related Social Work Education Guides
Attributes and Skill Sets Employers Often Look for When Hiring a Geriatric Social Worker
Even with such tremendous employment opportunities, addressing workforce shortages in the field of geriatric social work can be a challenge. This is in part due to the fact that working with the elderly takes basic social work competencies required to effectively meet gerontological needs, including:
- Understanding of the relationship between mental health and physical disabilities
- Advocacy and case management skills
- Empathy and compassion
- Trust and rapport
- Knowledge of elder abuse and neglect
- Risk assessment
- Knowledge of ethical and legal statues
- Knowledge of healthcare delivery systems
- Knowledge of available basic social service agencies and programs
- Patience and perseverance
Networking Opportunities and Organizations for Geriatric Social Workers
Launched in 1999 by the John A. Hartford Foundation, the "Geriatric Social Work Initiative” prepares social workers in the field of geriatrics. This initiative prepares faculty in gerontological research and education, and infuses competencies into social work coursework and teaching.
There are a number of networking organizations and agencies for aspiring geriatric social workers to explore, including:
- Hartford National Center on Gerontological Social Work Excellence - www.gswi.org
- Administration on Aging – US Department of Health and Human Services - https://acl.gov/about-acl/administration-aging
- American Geriatrics Society - http://www.americangeriatrics.org
- American Society on Aging - http://www.asaging.org
- Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work - http://www.agesocialwork.org
- Gerontological Society of America - http://www.geron.org
- National Association of Social Workers - http://www.naswdc.org
- Agency On Aging (AAA) - http://www.n4a.org