The desire to help those who can’t help themselves drives many people to get their Master’s in Social Work (MSW). Social work is a broad description for a field that serves an immense array of specific populations who need assistance. Deciding to go for your MSW is an important step on the path to a career in social work. In addition, however, you should go into your MSW with a clear idea about the subgroup of social work populations you want to work with.
If you have a passion for advocating for the elderly and ensuring that they are able to continue living their lives with dignity and respect, you might want to consider focusing your MSW studies on the specialized area of a gerontological social work.
Steps to becoming a gerontological social worker**
Gerontological is a big word with a simple meaning; as a gerontological social worker, you would be working with adults who are confronting the often complicated problems and issues that accompany aging.
Gerontological social workers are those who study to meet the biopsychosocial needs of the elderly. Their work takes into consideration the biological, psychological, and social aspects of caring for such populations.
Regardless of the specialization you choose, all social workers must take the same basic path to get their licensing. But if you decide to pursue gerontological social work, your path will diverge along the way as you take specialized courses and receiving training focused on working with the elderly. To start your career in gerontological social work, follow these steps:
1. Obtain your bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is a necessary prerequisite to earning your master’s, and a master’s degree is required for individuals who want to hold a social worker license. If you earned your bachelor’s degree in a subject other than social work, you will still be eligible to pursue your MSW, and, ultimately, your social work license. A Bachelor’s of Social Work is not a licensure requirement, but it is recommended for those who want to continue in the social work field after their undergraduate studies. This is because holding a BSW opens many more doors early in a social work career.
2. Gain work experience. A BSW or bachelor’s in psychology or sociology allows you access to entry-level social service positions throughout your state. These beginner jobs will help you to gain experience and to determine which specialization is your calling.
3. Obtain your master’s degree. While you are gathering your work experience, you can also begin the path to getting your MSW. Those with a BSW may be able to find programs with advanced standing tracks, while those with other undergraduate degrees will follow the traditional standing program tracks.
4. Apply for your license. After you have qualified for and received your MSW, you still have to become licensed to work in your state. This means you have to qualify for the boarding requirements, which vary from state to state. In most states, you will need to earn your graduate degree and then accrue a minimum of two years of work experience or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. At this point, you will be eligible to take the Association of Social Work Boards’ licensure exam.
5. Stay on top of continuing licensure requirements. Social work is an ever-changing field. To stay abreast of these changes and be able to provide the best possible patient care, your state will expect you to meet some continuing education requirements. Most states have these credits due every two years, though it varies from state-to-state.
What does a gerontological social worker do?
As a social worker in the field of gerontology, you would be considered an expert in connecting aging adults with sources of aid. These might include community resources or even medical help. You would help these elderly people and their families by thoroughly examining their situations and addressing their gaps in care. Then, you would help your patients and their families understand how those gaps can be filled and paid for.
After an initial examination with an individual, you would help them create a care plan, assist them with paperwork, and even offer therapy if they are going through periods of stress, anxiety, or depression.
It would also be your job to assess the functioning capacity of those you work with, determine whether their aging signs are normal or abnormal, and refer them for medical help as necessary.
For those elderly who are dealing with different stresses than that of aging, you would also be of aid. For example, many grandparents have had to step in and take on the role of a parent for various reasons. This can be difficult mentally and physically; it would be your job to help these grandparents find resources that will make their new roles easier to adapt to.
In this job, you would work in various settings such as rehab centers, long-term care, government agencies, in and outpatient health centers, and private practices.
Gerontological social worker training and education
As the average life expectancy continues to increase, gerontological social workers are in high demand. If you are driven to work in this field, you can do so regardless of your current educational standing.
If you have no college experience, any associate degree will work to get you to the bachelor’s level, at which point you can begin officially gaining work experience. It’s a good idea to try to find jobs in the social work field, even before you’ve earned your MSW, simply to verify that it is the path you want to follow before you put years of education and tuition into an MSW degree.
For those who are ready to begin their bachelor's degree, earning a BSW now will save you time later since you will be able to go into an advanced standing master’s path. However, if you already have a bachelor’s in another field and are looking to switch careers to social work, you can take a traditional standing path to earning your MSW.
It’s also important to note that even if you start your career in gerontological social work, you don’t have to stay in the same area of specialization forever. Social workers can advance their careers and take different paths by taking leadership training and continuing to work towards different licenses.
Gerontological social worker licensing and certification
There are multiple levels of licensure for a social worker, and each state has different categories into which these licenses fall. For example, to obtain your independent licensure, which is the highest category, you need at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical hours in most states. Then you will have to take and pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Clinical or Advanced Generalist Level exam.
With your MSW, you are immediately eligible to apply for a license as a Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker (CAPSW). However, in addition to the MSW, you will need many hours of clinical social work experience under the supervision of a board-approved supervisor. Once you have those hours, you will have to pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Master’s level exam.
You can contact the Board of Social Work in your state to see which licensing certificates you qualify for in your career as a gerontological social worker.
Gerontological social worker salaries and earnings
Knowledgeable gerontological social workers are continuing to grow in demand as the senior population continues to increase. In fact, social workers, in general, have a projected job growth of 16% from 2010 to 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The greatest area of growth is expected to be in areas like gerontological care because of the aging population.
The gerontological social worker salary varies depending on your experience and where you live in the country. You can start with a bachelor’s degree at an entry-level job and earn a median salary of $46,872. But an MSW will quickly pay for itself with the increased salary potential.
Glassdoor gives a good example of the wider range of opportunities you will have for a competitive salary with your master's degree. Here is an overview of the average salary for social workers in some of the country’s major cities:
Austin, TX: $53,274
Boston, MA: $58,014
Chicago, IL: $53,214
Miami, FL: $51,882
New Orleans, LA: $46,151
New York City, NY: $60,815
San Francisco, CA: $72,505
Your salary potential grows exponentially with your master’s degree. Add some experience to that, and your degree will pay for itself quickly.
Are you ready for your MSW in gerontological social work?
As we age, we lose a lot of basic abilities that we once took for granted. It’s important to be able to handle that loss without simultaneously losing things like respect and dignity.
Our aging population needs someone to advocate for them. If that someone is you, the time is right for you to start taking steps towards earning your MSW in gerontological social work!
"About Licensing and Regulation." Association of Social Work Boards. (n.d.) Retrieved November 16, 2018 from https://www.aswb.org/licensees/about-licensing-and-regulation/.
"Salary of a Social Worker." Glassdoor. (n.d.) Retrieved November 16, 2018 from https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/san-francisco-social-worker-salary-SRCH_IL.0,13_IM759_KO14,27.htm.
"Social Work Salaries." Human Services Edu. (n.d.) Retrieved November 16, 2018 from https://www.humanservicesedu.org/social-work-salaries.html.
"Social Workers." Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (n.d.) Retrieved November 16, 2018 from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm.