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Careers for Today and Tomorrow

As the number and proportion of older Americans increases, the ability to effectively and compassionately serve elders will prove invaluable to professionals from a wide range of disciplines. In the booklet Careers in Aging: Opportunities and Options, The Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE, 2004) asserts that the diverse needs of the older population have created a demand for aging specialists in such disciplines as:

  • Nursing
  • Medicine
  • Occupational and Physical Therapy
  • Speech-Language Pathology
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Nutrition
  • Business Administration
  • Education
  • Recreation
  • Retirement Housing
  • Insurance

In all of these disciplines, aging specialists can help redefine how society views old age: "Gerontological specialists assist older persons by challenging stereotypes about aging and old age and helping people understand that old age can be a time of growth, productivity, and enjoyment" (p. 6).  Colleges and universities cannot prepare students quickly enough to satisfy the growing need for professionals in the field of aging.

The Many Roles that Gerontologists Play

To meet the diverse needs of the older population, the field of aging requires professionals to play a variety of roles. AGHE (2004) identifies seven roles that gerontologists may play:

Direct Service Provider

Working one to one with elders and their families to determine their individual needs and provide appropriate assistance.

Program Planner and Evaluator

Identifying the interests and needs of older persons at the community level, designing programs to meet these needs, and determining the effectiveness of such programs.

Manager and Administrator

Overseeing the daily operation of agencies or programs that address the needs of older adults and their families.

Product Developer and Marketer

Identifying the unmet product and service needs of older persons and informing them about new products and services.


Articulating the needs of older people and urging the adoption of public or private programs that address these needs.


Designing and implementing educational programming for older adults and those who serve them.


Carrying out research on the nature of the aging process and on the effectiveness of intervention programs and policies.

A Closer Look at the Field of Gerontological Social Work

In the past, social work practice was largely confined to the areas of child welfare, mental health, and substance abuse. However, the aging of the American population has created a growing need for social workers who specialize in providing services for older adults. Gerontological social workers may run support groups for the adult children of aging parents. They may also assess, coordinate, and monitor services such as housing, transportation, and long-term care.

The settings in which gerontological social workers practice include hospices, hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, individual and family service agencies, and local governments. Regardless of their field of practice, employment opportunities are expected to be favorable for social workers in the coming years. However, job prospects may be especially good for those with a background in gerontology.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11. 

Tangible Rewards

Because aging specialists work in a variety disciplines, they earn a wide range of salaries.  The following list shows the median annual salaries for health and human services professions that commonly employ specialists in gerontology.  Although these figures include professionals that do not specialize in gerontology, they provide a good estimate of what aging specialists earn:

  • Registered Nurse. . . . . . . . . . . . $62,450
  • Occupational Therapist. . . . . . . . $66,780
  • Physical Therapist. . . . . . . . . . . $72,790
  • Speech-Language Pathologist. . . $62,930
  • Psychologist. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$64,140
  • Medical Social Worker. . . . . . . . . $46,650
  • Nutritionist. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $50,590
  • Medical Services Manager. . . . . . $80,240
  • Health Educator. . . . . . . . . . . . .$44,000
  • Recreational Therapist. . . . . . . . $38,370

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11.

Intangible Rewards

Along with the financial stability that a career in gerontology offers, research has demonstrated that professionals in this field obtain a high level of job satisfaction:  "A survey of midwestern gerontology program graduates found that 85% were satisfied with their current jobs, were enthusiastic about their career choice, and planned to continue working in the field of aging" (AGHE, 2004, p. 15).

Other Career Resources

101 Careers in Gerontology, by C. Joanne Grabinski, is a career guide to help individuals explore possible career options in the field of aging. It offers a diverse array of career positions profiles, some accompanied by interviews with professionals in those positions (including several EMU graduates), that allow the reader to compare two or more positions of interest. The And More... section suggests new options related to a variety of academic disciplines and professional fields. Joanne Grabinski is a former Gerontology Program Lecturer who designed and taught several courses in the program during her tenure at EMU.

The Aging Studies Program is part of the School of Health Sciences, 313 Everett L. Marshall Building, 734.487.4096