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Geriatric Social Workers Help Make the Golden Years Shine

Geriatric Social Workers Help Make the Golden Years Shine

Cindy Mehallow, Monster Contributing Writer

“My greatest reward is restoring some quality of life to people who have lost it due to health problems or a living situation,” Peterson says. “I’m able to help these people retain a sense of dignity and the essence of who they are.”

Working with older people requires compassion, patience and perseverance. And when confronting difficult situations, such as family meetings to discuss the need for a transition in living arrangements, or uncomfortable topics, such as resolving safety issues or obtaining more assistance with daily living, social workers must blend kindness with directness.

More on Social Work


Salary: $32,590 - $48,420
Min. Education: Master's
Related Careers: Psychologist, Rehabilitation Counselor

“My master’s-level training in counseling has given me the skills I need to handle family meetings and equipped me to speak in a way that is clear and direct but still receptive to the individual’s needs,” Peterson says.

Credentials Count

Most geriatric social work positions require a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) as a minimum, although a master’s in social work (MSW) is becoming standard.

“All BSW degrees are general, although you can do fieldwork and take electives in gerontology,” explains Anita Rosen, MSW, PhD, director of special projects for the CSWE.

Earning a degree from a CSWE-accredited program facilitates obtaining the required state license, says Berg-Weger, and usually gives grads advanced standing when they enter master’s programs.

Of the approximately 170 CSWE-accredited master’s programs, relatively few offer programs in gerontology. Candidates can opt for an MSW in healthcare or mental health, and spend the required 900 hours of supervised field instruction working with seniors.

Although regulations vary, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require some sort of licensure or registration. Certification by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is voluntary, but worth the effort. Credentials open doors to higher-paying positions in healthcare and mental health facilities, and are especially important for those who want to go into private practice.

Next Steps

Not sure about working with the elderly? Give it a try as a volunteer at a local senior center (listed in the phone book under Services for Aging) or aging center at a local university or community college.

For more about career options in geriatric social work, visit the University of Washington School of Social Work. The NASW site has more about credentials and specialty certifications. The Geriatric Social Work Initiative lists scholarship opportunities under “Funding Opportunities.”


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