According to the Administration on Aging (AoA), adults 65 and older represented 16 percent of the U.S. population in 2019. Experts predict this number will skyrocket to 21.6 percent by 2040. This sharp increase in our elderly population will necessitate a massive shift in healthcare. Every moving piece in the system, from healthcare administration to clinical practice, will need to grow rapidly to keep up with demand.
Geriatric social work (GSW) constitutes a vital component of healthcare for the elderly. This discipline covers a wide range of duties catering to those in the latter stages of life.
Geriatric social work may not be a field for everyone. It requires not just specialized skills but also a frame of mind that's prepared for often-challenging work.
You may feel called to geriatric social work but want to know how much geriatric social workers make before committing to the field. This article answers that question and covers the following topics:
Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D., wrote in Forbes that growing old in the United States is "not for wimps." America's aging face not only their own mortality but also a daunting array of challenges to survive and thrive. The astoundingly complex U.S. healthcare system, for one, requires the elderly to navigate an intensely complicated bureaucracy. Fortunately, they don't always have to tread the path alone.
Geriatric social workers act as a conduit between seniors and their families and a vast network of healthcare and government services, both local and federal, that are available to those of advanced age. Their primary duties include:
Geriatric social workers may provide counseling for families having difficulty adjusting to the problems of old age. Much like a medical social worker, the geriatric social worker acts as a hub at the center of all interested parties. They ensure that communication flows seamlessly among these parties to better the lives of the client and their loved ones.
A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, while not required for professional social work, is a good place to start your career in the field. A BSW qualifies you for entry-level work in social services. You will, however, also need a social work license. Certifications help as well; the Social Worker in Gerontology (SW-G) certification requires academic concentration in gerontology, a minimum of 3 years of experience in supervised work with seniors, and 20 hours of continued education.
You will need a bachelor's degree of some sort to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW); a BSW accelerates the pace of your graduate work by placing you out of some foundation courses. Masters-level social work programs typically take two years and require engaging in one or more clinical or non-clinical practicum or internship. General topics you can expect to study while earning your MSW include:
You're MSW qualifies you for clinical social work in the gerontology field although, again, you'll need to obtain the proper certification or credential distributed by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). These demonstrate both your dedication to the field and your expertise in your chosen specialty, making gainful employment easier to obtain. Certifications and credentials also make it easier to obtain licensure in the state where you wish to work.
MSWs who wish to specialize in gerontology should pursue the Advanced Social Worker in Gerontology (ASW-G). This credential requires 20 hours of continuing education in the field and at least two years of unsupervised work with older adults.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of 2021, the national average salary for standard U.S. social workers was $50,390 per year.
While any type of social work can be taxing, one might expect that pay for a field as demanding as geriatric social work would be higher. Data is inconsistent. Salary.com lists the average salary for geriatric social workers in the U.S. at $51,140 per year, slightly higher than general social worker pay listed by the BLS. Comparably lists the average at $39,190 per year. Ziprecruiter lists average pay at $76,753 per year.
What can we glean from this data? Geriatric social workers earn a wide range of incomes based on many factors. Location, setting, cost of living, and type of employer all play a prominent role.
If getting old isn't for wimps, neither is being a geriatric social worker. It involves engaging with clients during an often-challenging chapter of their lives. The GSW deals with difficulties such as physical deterioration, end-of-life conversations, ageism, elder abuse, and severely diminished mental faculties. They also contend with various non-age-related problems that become exacerbated by the client's advanced years.
And yet, some of these challenges are exactly why the work can be so rewarding. GSWs train for exactly these complications. Many who work in the field find their ability to help people deal with such problems very satisfying, including the ability to foster communication and understanding within family units.
Additionally, it is often the age of their clients—specifically, the experience that such longevity brings—that makes the work so interesting. It can be gratifying to be a voice for those who feel silenced and a reliable source of comfort and guidance for someone who feels that society has forgotten about them. Some even find that their elderly clients are more interested in hearing their own personal stories, which allows for developing richer connections.
Geriatric social work is a unique field with many challenges and many rewards. But is it the right profession for you?
The job outlook for GSWs is promising due to our aging population. Opportunities, positions, and job security are all bound to expand rapidly. Geriatric social workers can also work in various settings, from the more clinical to the more personal, offering the chance to assist people from various backgrounds.
GSWs foster solid and meaningful relationships with clients and their families. Facilitating more comprehensive, personally focused care for elderly individuals can lead to shorter hospital stays and lower bills, putting less strain on Medicare.
Geriatric social work has tremendous potential for those looking to make a difference. While salaries can veer toward the modest versus other roles requiring a master's degree, the personal satisfaction you could gain may be well worth it.
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