Today, the geriatric population and the careers associated with it are often easily overlooked by many of us. It may be because were uneducated, we’re still young, or we fear getting old. There may not be a good reason at all. However, one small conversation with a man or woman in a senior living home, at church, in the grocery store (or at home with your own elderly mama) will quickly remind you that the elderly community is one worth knowing, studying, working with, and learning from.
Understanding Geriatrics and Gerontology
Before delving into careers that involve working with the elderly community, it is important to first understand some important distinctions. Though both similarly deal with the aging process, the study and practice of geriatrics and gerontology do have some differences that are worth noting.
What is Geriatrics?
Geriatrics focuses on the care of the elderly population. The full scope of geriatrics involves preventing, diagnosing, and treating the health and disease conditions of the older population. Geriatric care recognizes that the “normal” way of doing things must be adapted to accommodate an aging body. Not unlike pediatrics, geriatric care often modifies existing methods, modalities, medications, and treatments, taking into account body differences, health differences, and age-related co-morbidities.
There is no clear distinction concerning at what age one transitions into elder care or geriatric care, although some believe that the age is approximately 60 years old. Most people (at any age) would benefit from considering if the choices they are making now are in line with what the field of geriatrics knows about the aging process. This includes considering medications and long-term side effects, care planning, and long-term physical movement and diet choices.
What is Gerontology?
Gerontology is concerned with the study of aging and older adults, physically, mentally, and socially. The full scope of gerontology is multi-disciplinary, including social sciences, research, psychology, public health, and public policy. Because one can enter into the gerontology field with a physiological or biological background (like a physician or a nurse), there can be significant overlap between gerontology and geriatric careers. Because of this overlap, it is not uncommon for all geriatric and gerontologic professionals to be referred to as gerontologists.
It is important to note that it is the field of gerontology that is responsible for taking knowledge gained through gerontologic research and geriatric care and applying it to existing policies and programs.
Deciding on a Career Path: Is Gerontology or Geriatrics for You?
The following is a discussion of careers in both geriatrics and gerontology. Though significant overlap between the two industries has been discussed, the careers addressed here are specific to either gerontology or geriatrics.
Health Service Manager
A career as a health service manager involves a lot of interaction with the elderly population, but from an administrative stance. A health service manager is responsible for overseeing personnel, creating, coordinating and ensuring adherence to policy, and overseeing operations; a master’s in healthcare administration (MHA) is extremely beneficial. These professionals often work in assisted living centers or hospital facilities that specifically care for the elderly. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018 the median income for this career was $99,730/year.
Hospice managers oversee facilities (or home health businesses) that provide end of life care for terminally ill individuals. These managers are involved in budget and finance choices, hiring and firing of personnel, employee supervision, and policy adherence. An ideal manager is well rounded in a variety of ways, as there are clinical, legal, strategic, ethical, and financial components to this career. Not unlike a health service manager, a MHA would prove to be beneficial. Median income is also similar, at approximately $100,000/year.
Social gerontologists are involved in advocacy for the elderly. These professionals may provide counseling or therapy, with the goal of educating the elderly about the resources available to them. Social gerontologists may also be involved in the creation of resources for the elderly, like senior-focused community programs. Typically, these professionals have a master’s in geriatrics or psychology (with a gerontologic focus). Per the BLS, they make approximately $82,000/year.
A geriatric physician, also known as a geriatrician, promotes health in the elderly by preventing and treating elder specific disease processes. Geriatricians can be generalized practitioners or specialize in any number of areas, including (but not limited to) occupational therapy, surgery, oncology, nutrition, urology, pain management, and physical therapy. There is a lot of variance in the annual income of a physician, however, in 2018 the BLS reported a physician and surgeon median income of >$208,000/year.
In many ways, a geriatric nurse is similar to a general practice nurse. These men and women know how to perform traditional nursing duties, but are also trained to better understand and meet the needs of the elderly population. Standard duties of a geriatric nurse include charting, medication administration, gathering of vital signs, exercise and massage, surveillance for elder abuse, and help with daily needs. Typically, geriatric nurses are employed in hospital, clinics, or residential care facilities. Home health nursing is also an option. Per the BLS, the median pay of a registered nurse in 2018 was approximately $71,000/year.
Geriatric Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA)
Geriatric CNAs are an integral part of the eldercare team. These professionals provide basic nursing care under the direction of nursing staff. Typical duties include dressing, hygiene, feeding, moving, and changing linens. Work of this nature can frequently be found in long-term care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, or home health. In 2018, the median pay for a CNA was $28,530/year.
The Future of Geriatrics and Gerontology
Careers involving the care and support of the geriatric population can be difficult, but they also have great potential to be extremely rewarding. There is also excellent job security for those interested in the elderly population. As the large Baby Boomer generation continues to age and life expectancy continues to increase, we are sure to see a greater need for professional men and women dedicated to the health, wellness, and wholeness of our elderly population.
Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) | Sacred Heart University
Associate’s Degree of Nursing (ADN) | North Seattle Community College
Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Marketing, Sales | University of Washington (Seattle)
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