Gerontology is the study of aging, encompassing the physical, mental, and sociological aspects of growing older. Professionals who specialize in gerontology have successful careers in diverse fields such as social services, public policy, government agencies, retirement and nursing homes, and healthcare management. With the number of elderly people quickly surpassing the number of people in any other age group, pursuing a career in gerontology is a smart and secure choice. There is a position available for a skilled gerontology specialist in every field in which the elderly are a concern.
Working with the elderly requires both empathy and excellent interpersonal skills on behalf of the practitioner. Whether you choose to work in social services or in healthcare management, you may encounter resistance and insensitivity from aged individuals. Gerontology is not without its rewards, however. The study of aged is a noble pursuit and one that can effect changes on both the public and individual levels. The duties of a gerontology specialist will vary contingent upon the field in which they choose to work. Due to the fact that gerontology is a skill equally valued in a large number of workplaces, you may choose to focus on a certain component of gerontology or combine past work experience with facilities learned through a gerontological course of study. The following three fields are the most common places for gerontology specialists to find employment:
- Nursing and Healthcare – A common career path for an individual with experience in gerontology, healthcare includes everything from nursing homes and hospitals to retirement communities and in-home care. Nurses may work with mentally or physically disabled patients and should possess a strong stomach and compassionate personality prior to employment. This position can require as little as a high school diploma to qualify for an entry-level position.
- Social Services – A combination of nurse and social worker, a gerontology specialist interested in social services might manage a nursing home, assist patients in decoding Medicare documentation, and supervise everything from group activities to fitness programs designed specifically for the elderly. A certificate or Associates degree is a sufficient credential to pursue a career in social services.
- Social Work – An individual who has earned a Bachelors degree in social work might supplement their undergraduate education with an M.S. in gerontology. Social workers skilled in gerontology specialize in assisting the elderly with any unique problems that may arise due to age, such as Alzheimer’s disease or in-home care. The demand for such social workers will grow concurrently with the aging population.
Other fields available to gerontologists include the social sciences and legal services. Studying the relationship of the elderly to society can effect public policy and promote positive change. Gerontology specialists with a legal background often find work as advocates for the elderly. Both of these positions require an advanced degree of education, usually an Masters in their respective disciplines.
The demand for an Social and Human Service Assistants with solid training in gerontology is expected to increase by 23% over the next 10 years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a figure well over the average for similar healthcare professionals.