According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2030, all baby boomers — the generation of over 70 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 — will be 65 or older.
This sizable portion of the American population inevitably requires specialized healthcare and social, mental, and emotional support. Geriatric social workers' expertise and competent client care are becoming increasingly vital.
Learn how individuals can become geriatric social workers. Find out about the academic and professional requirements and projected career data.
What Is a Geriatric Social Worker?
Geriatric social workers advocate for older individuals and ensure that they receive the appropriate social, emotional, and mental health support. These licensed professionals work in various in-patient and out-patient settings, including residential care facilities, community health organizations, and hospices.
Geriatric social workers typically hold a master's degree in social work and hone the skills needed to adequately assess the emotional, cognitive, and social needs of patients traditionally over the age of 65. These professionals also work closely with other medical and mental health professionals to ensure that clients establish and maintain various treatment plans.
Continue reading to learn about how to become a geriatric social worker.
Steps to Become a Geriatric Social Worker
Social work is a licensed career. Interested individuals must meet various academic and professional benchmarks before securing their license.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
The first step to becoming a geriatric social worker is securing a bachelor's degree. While clinical social workers typically hold a master's degree, a bachelor's in social work can offer a solid academic foundation. Additionally, many programs offer gerontology coursework and/or certifications in gerontology.
These programs traditionally require students to complete 120 credits of general education, major, and minor coursework. Major classes for a bachelor's in social work may include Introduction to Social Work, Social Work Case Management Practice, and Social Welfare Policy. Some programs encourage students to complete an internship in the field to gain hands-on experience.
Step 2: Enter the Workforce
While some bachelor's graduates transition straight into a master's program in social work, many take time to gain relevant experience in the field. During this time, graduates can hone their skills, build professional connections, and enhance their resumes.
Tackling relevant work before enrolling in a master's program can often secure a place in more prestigious master's social work programs. During this time, social work grads can hone essential skills like discharge planning, needs assessment, and case management.
Step 3: Complete a Master's Degree
A master's in social work (MSW) is an essential step when pursuing a career as a clinical geriatric social worker. Typically taking about two years, these graduate programs offer students the theoretical and practical knowledge they need to serve an aging population.
During the master's program, students typically complete 48-60 credits and cover core classes focused on social welfare policy, interventions in clinical social work, and human behavior in the social environment.
Step 3: Secure Your Licensure
Licensing requirements for social workers vary by state, but all states require graduation from an accredited program and passage of a licensure examination. And most states require individuals to gain 2-3 years of full-time (can be longer if part-time hours) professional experience before securing licensure within their respective state.
In short, social work licensure helps ensure these professionals have met academic and professional standards while verifying that they hold the necessary knowledge and experience to serve their clients effectively. Additionally, most states require 3,000 hours (or more) of supervised clinical experience.
Step 4: Continuing Education
Specialized training, continuing education, and certification programs allow social workers to enhance their skills, expand career options, and bolster their earning potential. The National Association of Social Workers offers three certifications for individuals interested in geriatric social work:
- Social worker in gerontology (SW-G)
- Clinical social worker in gerontology (CSW-G)
- Advanced social worker in gerontology (ASW-G)
Geriatric Social Worker Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers earn a median annual salary of $50,390, as of May 2021. The BLS projects job growth for social workers will increase by 12% from 2020-2030. Additionally, the highest-paid — the top 10% — of social workers earn more than $82,840 per year.
Social workers typically enter the field to join a helping career rather than a desire to cultivate extravagant wealth. However, social work professionals do have access to resources that can enhance their earning potential.
Professional experience can significantly impact salaries. Those with advanced degrees and specializations and professionals in leadership roles typically make higher salaries.
Frequently Asked Questions on Becoming a Geriatric Social Worker
Those looking to provide clinical services must earn a master’s degree in social work.
These programs typically take approximately two years to complete, with some schools now providing gerontology concentrations. Graduates must meet licensure requirements, which typically include completing supervised clinical hours and passing an exam.
Geriatric social workers identify each client's needs and work to ensure they get the care and support needed to improve their situations. They may connect older clients with resources for mobility-support items, locate low-cost mental health services, or make recommendations on assisted-living facilities.
Geriatric social workers also keep extensive case files on each client, making detailed notes about how their needs and health statuses change over time. They also build relationships with community resource providers and make referrals as needed.
Resources for Geriatric Social Workers
- Geriatrics Healthcare Professionals: This nonprofit membership association supports healthcare professionals working specifically with aging populations. Members can access various programs, publications, and tools.
- NASW Aging: The National Association of Social Workers provides a page on its website with tools and resources for geriatric social workers.
- National Institute on Aging: Operating as part of the National Institutes of Health, NIA provides resources for professionals and patients looking to learn about the aging process.
- Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work: This nonprofit association focuses on providing access to policy, education, and research for students and professionals alike.
- Aging Life Care Association: ALCA provides members access to in-person and virtual events, continuing education, local chapters, and opportunities for career advancement.
Clinical vs. Direct Practice Social Work: What's the Difference?
Expert Q&A: Getting to Know a Social Worker
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