A degree in gerontology prepares students for careers in healthcare, social work, and occupational therapy settings. Equipped with an understanding of the aging process and its accompanying challenges, gerontology professionals offer support, understanding, and assistance to aging populations.
This page explores degree programs, careers, and important skills related to the field gerontology.
Why Pursue a Career in Gerontology?
People who enjoy working with older adults often thrive in gerontology careers. The field requires patience, attention to patient and client needs, and the ability to support others as they experience cognitive and physical issues.
A degree in gerontology can lead to social work, nursing, occupation therapy, and education careers. Gerontology professionals can also work in research, management, and policy roles.
Gerontology Career Outlook
A degree in gerontology can lead to in-demand careers as a social worker, nurse, or home health aide.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the healthcare industry will see the largest increase in employment between 2019 and 2029 among occupational categories in the United States. During the same period, the BLS projects 34% job growth for home health and personal care aides, 8% growth for nursing assistants, and 13% growth for social workers.
|Job Title||Entry-Level (0-12 months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Midcareer (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
|Home Health Aide||$25,410||$23,580||$25,170||$25,430|
Skills Gained With a Gerontology Degree
Gerontology students learn about the aging process and the unique challenges that aging populations confront. They also explore the impact of an aging population on society.
In gerontology programs, learners gain interpersonal, problem-solving, communication, and organizational skills.
- Interpersonal Skills
Gerontology professionals work closely with people from diverse backgrounds. They frequently collaborate with other medical, social service, and administrative professionals. Therefore, they must possess strong interpersonal skills that allow them to navigate professional interactions.
Gerontology professionals must find solutions to medical, emotional, financial, and social problems faced by older adults. They must identify problems after talking to patients and come up with practical and effective responses.
Gerontology professionals benefit from excellent communication skills. They must interact with patients, family members, and service providers to explain complex issues and situations. They also need good listening skills to understand the issues facing their patients.
Gerontology professionals often work with patients in stressful and vulnerable situations. As such, empathy and compassion for older adults and their families is crucial to succeed in this field.
Gerontology professionals need strong organizational skills to fill out, file, and keep track of paperwork so that their patients and clients receive the help and treatment they need.
Gerontology Career Paths
Gerontology graduates can prepare for specific career paths by choosing a concentration. The following concentrations are common among gerontology programs, but offerings vary by school.
- Mental Health
A mental health concentration teaches students how to provide mental health services and psychotherapy to aging adults and their families. This concentration may include courses like psychopathology and aging and mental health assessment of older adults.
- Grief Care Management
This concentration teaches learners how to help individuals manage their grief. Students learn how to counsel older adults and families who are going through the grieving process with empathy and compassion.
- Health Services Administration
This concentration prepares graduates to work as administrative services managers. Students learn to plan and manage healthcare services and operations in different settings. Required courses may include healthcare finance, healthcare risk management, and quality management in healthcare.
- Long-Term Care Administration
This concentration prepares graduates to work in administrative roles in long-term care facilities for older adults. Students learn how to manage patient concerns and communicate with the family members of patients.
How to Start Your Career in Gerontology
Starting an entry-level career in gerontology requires a certificate, diploma, or associate degree. Each option takes two years or less and prepares graduates to work as nursing aids, orderlies, and occupational therapy assistants.
A bachelor's degree can lead to more advanced roles, like social worker, health services representative, and community health worker. By earning a graduate degree, learners can pursue careers as geriatric care managers and adult-geriatric nurse practitioners.
Associate Degree in Gerontology
An associate degree in gerontology introduces students to the human aging process from biological, psychological, and sociological perspectives. Learners study issues and concerns related to aging, exploring tools and techniques to provide service to older adults.
An associate degree in gerontology also provides insight into housing options for the elderly, health and wellness, and business and finances. Graduates can begin careers as home and personal care aides, medical assistants, and social and human service assistants.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Gerontology?
- Home and Personal Care Aides
Home and personal care aides provide assistance to patients with chronic illnesses, disabilities, and/or physical or cognitive impairments. They often help older adults with medications, appointments, cooking, and driving.
- Medical Assistants
Medical assistants work alongside doctors, nurses, and healthcare administrators. They provide clinical services at hospitals, physicians' offices, and other healthcare facilities. These professionals administer medications, prepare laboratory tests, and record patient data.
- Social and Human Service Assistants
Social and human service assistants offer patient and client services in social work, psychology, and rehabilitation settings. They help develop and implement treatment plans by assisting with paperwork and scheduling appointments.
Bachelor's Degree in Gerontology
Bachelor's programs in gerontology prepare students for entry-level and mid-level jobs. Most gerontology bachelor's programs take four years to complete.
The best online bachelor's in gerontology programs feature an internship or practicum that provides students with experience in the field. Potential careers for graduates include social and community service manager, social worker, and community health worker.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Gerontology?
- Social and Community Service Managers
Social and community service managers coordinate social service programs for communities. They manage social workers and other employees who offer social services to clients. This position usually requires at least a bachelor's degree. These professionals often work for government and nonprofit agencies.
- Social Workers
Social workers help people manage problems in their day-to-day lives. They work in schools, mental health clinics, and human service agencies. They assess client needs, locate community resources, and maintain records and case files.
- Health Educators
Health educators provide education and create strategies for improving community and individual health. They can work for hospitals, colleges, private businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Health educators need at least a bachelor's degree and may also need a license.
- Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help people dealing with alcoholism, eating disorders, and drug addiction. They help clients modify their behavior by providing support and treatment. They need at least a bachelor's degree, and they may also need a license.
- Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants
Certified occupational therapy assistants provide aid to registered occupational therapists. They help rehabilitate people with injuries or disabilities. These professionals need strong interpersonal and administrative skills, and they receive direct supervision from registered occupational therapists.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Gerontology Graduate Certificate Programs
Students who want to advance their career in gerontology without investing the time and money required for a master's or Ph.D. can complete a gerontology graduate certificate. Learners can usually complete these programs in under a year.
Certificate students typically need to complete 4-6 courses. Online gerontology graduate certificate programs may provide a broad overview of the field or focus on a niche area. Gerontology careers available to professionals with a graduate certificate vary based on their experience and education.
Master's Degree in Gerontology
Master's programs in gerontology prepare graduates to work as planners, administrators, and practitioners who specialize in meeting the needs of older adults. Gerontology master's programs typically provide students with more advanced research and leadership skills than bachelor's programs. Many programs also include an internship.
Top online master's in gerontology programs offer concentrations that let students gain expertise in a gerontology subfield. Possible jobs for graduates of master's in gerontology programs include medical and health services manager, administrative services manager, and rehabilitation counselor.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Gerontology?
- Medical and Health Services Managers
Medical and health services managers plan, coordinate, and direct healthcare and medical services. They work in hospitals, group medical practices, and assisted living facilities. They may manage entire facilities or specific departments within a facility. Gerontology expertise helps these professionals understand the issues facing older adults in their medical facilities. Many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree.
- Administrative Services Managers
Administrative services managers coordinate, direct, and plan services that support organizations. Specific duties vary by position but may include facility maintenance and office upkeep. Administrative services managers who work with aging adults may benefit from holding a master's degree in gerontology.
- Rehabilitation Counselors
Rehabilitation counselors need at least a master's degree, and some jobs require a license or certification. These professionals help people facing mental, physical, and developmental challenges live more independently. They provide counseling, evaluate client needs, and advocate for clients. They also develop treatment plans and maintain records.
- Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapists help people with physical challenges develop the skills they need to accomplish everyday tasks. They work in hospitals, occupational therapy offices, schools, and nursing homes. They usually need a master's degree. Additionally, professionals in all states need a license to practice occupational therapy.
- Research Analysts
Research analysts assess quantitative and qualitative data. They write reports and deliver presentations that explain their findings. They can work in the private and public sectors. Master's students gain advanced research skills, which can help them excel as research analysts.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Doctoral Degree in Gerontology
Gerontology doctoral programs prepare graduates for high-level careers in the field. Doctoral students gain expertise in gerontology theory and practice before pursuing a specialization. Students pursuing a doctorate in gerontology spend at least one year conducting research and writing a dissertation on their specialization. In total, these programs typically take 3-7 years to complete.
Graduates can go on to careers in teaching, research, clinical practice, and administration.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Gerontology?
- Physicians, Geriatric Specialists
Physicians who specialize in geriatrics work to diagnose, treat, and prevent illnesses in older adults. They study general medicine before specializing in geriatrics. They must complete medical school and at least three years of residencies. They also need to obtain a medical license.
- Postsecondary Teachers, Health
Postsecondary teachers provide instruction to students at community colleges and four-year colleges and universities. They create curricula, assess student learning, and teach courses. They may also conduct and publish research.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
How to Advance Your Career in Gerontology
Gerontology degree-holders can pursue several paths for professional development and career advancement. Professionals can return to school to earn additional certificates or degrees or obtain certifications through professional organizations.
Gerontology-specific professional organizations also provide publications, research, and training resources to help members advance their knowledge and skills. Some colleges and universities offer free online courses in gerontology, many of which are available through open courseware providers like Coursera and edX.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Licensure requirements for gerontology professionals vary by vocation and state.
Social workers across the country have different licensure requirements, depending on where they work. They also have additional opportunities to earn specialized credentials from the National Association of Social Workers.
Clinical nurses and nurse practitioners — who must be licensed — can also earn adult-gerontology certifications from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Additionally, the National Association for Professional Gerontologists awards certifications to professionals with degrees in the field.
Nursing home administrators and residential care and assisted living facility administrators also have various requirements for state licensure. The National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards (NAB) coordinates with state licensing bodies and accredits health services executive programs. Additionally, NAB offers a health services executive qualification and provides information about third-party certification programs.
Continuing education provides gerontology professionals with access to specialized content and current trends in the field. Many gerontology professionals must complete continuing education to renew their state licenses.
Examples of continuing education include the American Society on Aging's free webinars and the Health Resources and Services Administration's training programs. Open courseware providers like Coursera and edX also offer continuing education courses in gerontology.
Colleges and universities like the University of Rhode Island and the University of Rochester provide access to free courses, while organizations like the Carolina Geriatric Education unite academic institutions with government agencies to offer both free and paid courses.
To hone existing skills and expand their knowledge, gerontology professionals benefit from pursuing continuing education, professional development, and networking opportunities. Attending continuing education classes offered by colleges and universities and completing open courseware may count toward requirements to renew certifications and licenses.
Geriatric social workers can keep track of their continuing education requirements and progress by using the National Association of Social Worker's CE tracker. Additionally, nurses specializing in geriatric care can gain access to continuing education events and courses through the American Nursing Association's ANA Enterprise website.
Membership in professional organizations also gives gerontology professionals access to industry publications, online resources, and research. Networking opportunities at conferences and through online discussion forums also allow professionals to collaborate with peers.
How to Switch Your Career to Gerontology
Transitioning to a gerontology career may require additional coursework and experience working with aging adults. Current social and community workers, human service aides and assistants, and healthcare providers can earn certifications in gerontology, gaining the skills needed to meet the needs of elderly patients and clients.
Earning a new degree or certificate in gerontology also opens the door to a career switch. Students with a background in biology, psychology, or sociology can pursue bachelor's or master's degrees in gerontology to build upon existing knowledge.
Where Can You Work as a Gerontology Professional?
Nursing assistants, orderlies, and medical assistants can find employment with private physicians, in hospitals, and at specialized care centers. Social and human service assistants work for individual and family services, nursing and residential care facilities, and local government agencies.
Healthcare social workers work with individuals, families, and groups to provide assistance as they cope with illness, providing education and resources. Healthcare social workers may focus their efforts on aging adults.
The BLS reports the largest number of healthcare social workers find employment in hospitals, with agencies that provide home healthcare services, and within nursing care facilities. Some of the most lucrative employers for healthcare social workers include junior colleges, religious organizations, and consulting services.
Additional roles for geriatric professionals include positions as health educators and community health workers. Top employers for these individuals include government agencies and medical care facilities.
Interview With a Professional in Gerontology
Marlena del Hierro
Marlena del Hierro brings over 10 years of experience to the senior care industry and is a founding member at Seniorly, a national senior living marketplace. She was a part of the National Association for Professional Gerontologists and was selected as a scholar for the LeadingAge California EMERGE program. Marlena has spent years working in assisted living communities, where she has exhibited skills in care management, community advocacy, and license preparation.
- What led you to pursue a career in the senior care industry? Was this something you always knew you wanted to do?
My interest in the senior care industry has always been rooted in my relationship with my family — specifically my grammy, who had always been a guiding light for me. In addition, when I was in high school, my weekly volunteering at the Buena Park Senior Center influenced my passion to pursue a career in the senior care industry.
I realized how odd it was to be an 18-year-old paying attention to a career out of high school that nobody talked about, and I wanted to change that. Aging courses in college led me to discover gerontology. In fact, my grammy was there the moment I learned what the word "gerontology" meant!
Less than one year before starting San Francisco State University's master's program in gerontology, my grandmother became ill. At the end of her life, as my family came together to care for her, I recognized how fortunate she was, but I also realized how many elders don't have someone there to advocate for them and navigate a challenging aging process.
I attended the prestigious San Francisco State University gerontology program because I knew the program would afford me the practical experience of working directly within senior living.
During one such opportunity, I met Arthur Bretschneider. He was just beginning to form an innovative company called Seniorly that would focus on providing access to the best care for our aging loved ones. We shared similar beliefs for improving current aging models. After graduation, I accepted a position as a founding member of Seniorly.
- What does a typical day look like for you?
Seniorly — based in San Francisco, California — is the fastest-growing senior living marketplace in the United States. This guarantees a busy day.
Specifically, my background in gerontology affords me the chance to offer my unique skills to the different departments at the company.
My responsibilities include advising our customer success team on how to help an ailing senior transition from a hospital to an appropriate care community, collaborating with our product development team on how to make our website and mobile experience better suited for seniors, and identifying the best people nationwide to serve our senior customers with the same high standards I learned in school.
My role in business partnerships is meant to ensure families have the best senior living search possible. To succeed, I use a combination of technical gerontology skills and real-world problem-solving.
I spend at least 50% of my day answering emails and speaking on the phone or video chatting with our valued partners. These local experts are the ones helping families in their community connect to the best senior care options. These professionals often seek out advice on the best care plan for their senior clients while seeking to collaborate on growing their business.
The last part of my day affords me the chance to collaborate with our growth team, optimizing the community listings on our website so families have access to as much information as I know they are seeking.
- What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work? And challenging?
On my first day of gerontology graduate school, my hope for changing the face of aging meant helping one person at a time. After four years at Seniorly, I have the opportunity to help and guide thousands of families a month!
Working with a team that believes in a solution to healthier aging and that is focused on providing the best online senior living search experience for families is inspiring. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing the positive impact we have on the older adults we help each day.
I'm given the opportunity to use my knowledge and expertise to make a direct impact on seniors who are looking for assisted living or other care. Our team collaborates on creating future innovations that challenge the status quo of aging in America.
This has a direct impact on the families we work with. Can you imagine anything more exciting?!
The biggest challenge we face at Seniorly is dealing with families who simply don't have the knowledge or experience to navigate this complicated industry. They reach out to us in their time of need, but most don't even know what senior living options are available to them.
For instance, many people ask about "nursing homes," but in fact what they really mean is "assisted living." No matter how easy our platform is to use, there is still a learning curve most seniors have to get over in order to take control of their needs.
This can include getting family members to start talking about the hard things and planning accordingly. My education has played a crucial role in being able to inform families of their options and the road they are most likely able to take.
By the way, this learning curve can also be found on the business-to-business side of things, and I'm often challenged to work with professionals who need help identifying and overcoming the barriers that lead to a lack of understanding and compassion.
- What would you say are some of the most important skills required to work in a setting like an assisted living community?
As I am afforded the chance every day to get an inside look into over 30,000 assisted living communities nationwide, I have learned some very consistent skills that are needed to succeed in that care setting.
First, teamwork is everything. The communities that provide the best care are the ones with cross-department collaboration. This means they are working together to put the senior first.
Second, being organized is essential. This was a trait I had to learn while training as a gerontologist, and frankly I am shocked at how many professionals lack this skill. The most successful employees are the ones who have all the records organized, calendars clearly marked and managed, and each resident's care plan understood and tracked.
The final skill I have seen consistently in the most successful professionals working in assisted living is passion. This is not an easy industry to work within; let's face it, it's not a sexy tech company.
For me, there is nothing more important than the passion for helping to ensure our aging loved ones are treated with respect and cared for properly. That passion will get you through the difficult times and inspire others.
- What advice would you give to someone considering a career in gerontology?
My advice to anyone considering a degree in gerontology is to be open. Learn the basics, then explore beyond. You may come right back to being a gerontologist, or you might find a secondary opportunity that relies on your unique training and skill set.
If you are like me, and you are driven to make a positive impact on seniors, then pursuing the study of aging is an excellent way to make a career out of your passion. Seek out internships and future employment that supports your career goals but also holds the same core beliefs you do.
Even if you choose something outside of your comfort zone, stay true to your core belief. And remember this: the "longevity industry" needs people from all walks of life to contribute to a system desperately in need of improving.
New products, new services, and new aging models are being developed every day. You could be a part of that!
Gerontology is a fairly new profession, but companies are learning the value of an aging specialist. I hear time and time again how much value I bring to Seniorly's vision.
I am truly humbled by the opportunity and make sure to honor my education, my core belief, and my family every day. There is simply no better time to make an impact on this profession.
Resources for Gerontology Majors
Gerontology students and workers can access resources through professional organizations and government agencies. Membership benefits with a professional organization often include access to publications, issue updates, and advocacy opportunities.
- Professional Organizations
The Gerontological Society of America: An interdisciplinary professional organization, GSA promotes research on aging and distributes information to the public, policymakers, and scientists. Its more than 5,000 members include policy experts, social workers, nurses, and physicians. Members gain access to job listings, publications, and professional networking opportunities.
American Geriatrics Society: A membership organization for healthcare professionals in geriatrics, the AGS promotes independence, health, and quality of life for older adults. Nurses, physician assistants, physicians, and geriatricians comprise the group's membership of more than 6,000 individuals. The AGS produces publications and tools for geriatrics professionals, organizes conferences, and provides information about the profession.
American Society on Aging: Founded in 1954, ASA brings together gerontology professionals from many disciplines. Members include practitioners, researchers, policymakers, students, and administrators. ASA offers an annual conference, workshops, and web seminars. It also publishes a bimonthly newspaper and hosts a blog.
HealthinAging.org: The Health in Aging Foundation oversees this website. Older adults and caregivers can find educational materials and locate a geriatrics healthcare provider on the site. The website also provides information on medications and wellness.
AARP: This organization — formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons — empowers adults to live the way they want as they get older. More than 38 million people are AARP members. The association advocates for older adults at the local, state, and federal levels. It also promotes affordable, quality healthcare and housing for older individuals.
National Council on Aging: NCOA partners with government agencies, nonprofit groups, and businesses to help people address the challenges of aging. It offers online help, community services and programs, and advocacy. It also provides relevant news and public policy information.
National Institute on Aging: One of the National Institute of Health's 27 institutes and centers, NIA leads aging research. It promotes health and works to increase the number of active years of life. It is also the main government agency researching Alzheimer's disease.
- Open Courseware
Living with Dementia: Impact on Individuals, Caregivers, Communities, and Societies - Johns Hopkins University: Provided through Coursera, this class builds foundational knowledge of how to care for persons with neurocognitive disorders. Designed for health professionals, students, caregivers, and families of affected individuals, the class spans four weeks.
Tools Designed to Assist Primary Care, Better Screen, and Support Older Adults - University of Rhode Island: This class explains techniques for geriatric assessment and how to identify and employ tools to care for aging adults. It also offers resources for patients and caregivers.
Type 2 Diabetes Management - Stanford University: This course teaches practical approaches to lifestyle and medication management of type 2 diabetes. The curriculum focuses on new medications, medication algorithms, and food-based counseling.
Alzheimer's Series - Carolina Geriatric Education Center: This three-part Alzheimer's series introduces students to screening techniques, classification systems, and diagnostic standards for working with individuals demonstrating functional decline. Coursework also covers pharmacotherapies and nonpharmacological interventions.
The Gerontologist: Published by The Gerontological Society of America, this journal provides multidisciplinary information on human aging and how it relates to social issues. Covered topics include the aging process, providing care to older adults, and implications for policy and practice.
Journal of Aging and Health: With an emphasis on how health affects the aging process, this journal explores diet and nutrition, disease prevention, active life expectancy, and social support and health. With an interdisciplinary approach, the journal encourages the exchange of current research and opens up discussions about the relationship between gerontology and health.
Journal of Applied Gerontology: The Journal of Applied Gerontology publishes comprehensive content about gerontological practice and policy. Covered topics include death and dying, caregiving, and technology and care. The journal disseminates research, recommendations, and innovative ideas to enhance care for older populations.
Research on Aging: This publication provides an international forum for research on aging populations and the aging process. The journal explores debates on current issues, practical research findings, and future directions in the field.
The Journals of Gerontology: The Journals of Gerontology were the first publications on aging issued in the United States. Series A focuses on biological sciences and medical sciences, while Series B emphasizes psychological sciences and social sciences.
Generations Journal: The official publication of the American Society on Aging, Generations brings together current knowledge about aging four times each year. Issues focus on a specific topic in aging, blending practice, research, and policy.
Gerontology & Geriatrics Education: Published by the Academy for Gerontology Education, this journal promotes the exchange of information applicable to research, curriculum development, and classroom practices in gerontology. Designed for students, faculty, and practitioners, the journal provides evidence-based knowledge about education issues related to the field.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is gerontology a good career?
A gerontology career offers many employment opportunities. Gerontology positions provide rewarding career paths for individuals interested in helping others, learning about the aging process, and promoting understanding of the issues facing older adults.
- What do you do with a gerontology degree?
A degree in gerontology prepares students for careers in healthcare, social and human services, and community settings. Gerontology professionals may work within healthcare facilities as nurses and nursing assistants, physicians, and other medical providers.
With a degree in gerontology, students can also find employment as social workers, home health and personal care aides, and community service workers.
- How much money does a gerontologist make?
Salaries for gerontology professionals vary by position, education, and experience. Entry-level gerontology professionals, such as home health and personal care aides, earned a median annual salary of $25,280 in 2019, while social workers earned a median annual salary of $50,470.
- What qualifications do I need to work with the elderly?
Qualifications to work with the elderly differ based on a worker's vocation and location. Entry-level gerontology professionals may not need licensure, while geriatric social workers, nurses, and support providers often need state licenses.
- Is a gerontologist a doctor?
Some gerontologists are doctors. Gerontologists focus on studying the aging process, while geriatricians treat illnesses and diseases that commonly affect individuals as they age, such as diabetes and dementia. Physicians who specialize in caring for aging and elderly adults must have a medical degree with additional qualifications in geriatrics.