shutterstock 1342804313You’ve long been a lover of the elderly population. You appreciate their hard fought for wisdom and insight, their grit and determination, and their desire to live long and live well. Not surprisingly, you’ve decided to follow your passions and pursue a gerontology degree. But, like many students today, even with a degree, you have no idea where you will actually get a job.

This is not an uncommon situation. Many students stay on track through high school graduation and their years in extra schooling. Yet when they graduate, they have a degree in hand, student loans looming, and zero idea what to do next. To avoid landing in a similar situation, it is important to understand what type of gerontology education choices are available, what you can do with a gerontology degree, and what the gerontology job outlook is.

Educational Options for a Gerontology Career

Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about a career in healthcare, and more specifically, a gerontology career in healthcare, is the vast array of educational options available for achieving goals. For the student interested in careers in aging, there are certification tracks, associate’s degree tracks, bachelor’s degree tracks, and advanced degree tracks. While different educational choices lead to a different job outlook and income earning potential, there is not question that there are possibilities for nearly every student in any financial situation. Remember to always look for programs, degrees, and certificates that are accredited.

Gerontology Certificate

For those working with the elderly or interested in a career with the elderly, a certificate in gerontology is meant to enhance your understanding of the population. Typically, these course take 6-8 weeks, are a certain number of course hours (20-30), may be done online, and cost between $200-$500.

Associate’s Degree in Gerontology

If you are unable to go to a 4-year university, there are associate programs available to you. Graduates of these degree programs have the knowledge and skills to holistically care for the aging population, with career options in direct patient care, administration, training, advocacy, and care management. Programs typically last two years and are often offered online, with an in-person practicum or internship the final semester.

Bachelor’s Degree in Gerontology

Most universities offer bachelor’s degrees in gerontology; many have options for online education if needed. Courses typically include introductory geriatric education, theoretical approaches concerning elder development, healthcare and social system overviews, and analysis of existing public policy. Bachelor’s programs typically take 4+ years.

Advanced Gerontology Degree

There are many jobs in the gerontology field that require post-secondary education. Master’s degrees in gerontology are available, as well as master’s degrees for those with a related bachelor’s degree (like social work, healthcare administration, physician, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist).

Advanced Gerontology Certification

If you already work in gerontology or possess a degree in an applicable and/or related field, you have the option for specialization. Look for a certification accredited by the National Association for Professional Gerontologists (NAPG). Typically, individuals with a bachelor’s or a master’s degree pursue these certifications. These non-degree programs ensure you are specialty “certified” to work with the geriatric population. Courses will differ depending on where you achieve your certification, but will likely cover topics like community resources for the elderly, psychosocial aspects of aging, health aspects of aging and social policies of aging.

 Entering the Gerontology Workforce

You have your degree(s) and/or certificate in hand, great! But now what? What kind of jobs are available to you? Where do you look for jobs? These answers are largely dependent on what educational choice you have made. However, there are a few different places where you will find that many professionals with gerontology education chose to work.

Health Facilities: There are many jobs available in health facilities, for all levels of education. Health facilities includes locations like hospitals, nursing homes, community clinics, hospices, and home health organizations.

Community Agencies: While the work may be similar to some health facility jobs, these sorts of jobs are available in retirement centers, senior centers and adult day-care programs.

Corporate: Typically, these careers are for those with a more diverse background (administration, leadership, business, finance). This includes positions in organizational management (at any facility or agency), product development and/or marketing, and private healthcare consulting.

Advocacy: Advocacy careers are most often found at membership organizations or research organizations (Senior Advocacy Services, HI-CAP Medicare, Elder Justice Initiative, AARP, and AgeWork).

Research: To be part of gerontologic research, you will want to look for job opportunities at universities and colleges and government agencies.

Social Service: Social services encompasses federal positions and local community possibilities. Opportunities are available with family service agencies, departments of social service, churches, and senior centers.

Rehabilitation: Focused on elder re-entry into life and possibly the workforce, rehabilitation agencies, state agencies, and centers for job retraining and placement also offer career opportunities.

Gerontology Careers Outlook

Finding work you are passionate about is always a gift. If that work also has great job security, then you are likely set up for a long and fulfilling career. Today, as the baby boomer generation continues to age, the job outlook for gerontologic jobs is strong.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates a steep increase in the population aged 65 and over, concluding that there will be 83 million persons >65 years old by the year 2050. This is nearly double the estimated 43 million persons in 2012. This large increase means greater care needs and greater job opportunities. From 2018-2028, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports 13% increases in both entry-level positions in social and human survives and social and community services manager positions.

Aging, and all of its nuances, affects individuals, families, social norms, and policy. For most, embracing its inevitability is (eventually) the only choice they have. A career in gerontology is certain to be rewarding, fulfilling, and challenging, as you help those around you embrace what is potentially one of the greatest honors many of us get, the privilege of living long and living well.

Laura Mansfield

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) | 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)

October 2019

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