Geriatric Social Worker

Are you interested in working with older adults? For some people, working with older adults is a lifelong passion. They knew what they wanted to do even before taking up college. For others like Karen Lee, a social worker in UCLA School of Public Affairs, her love for working with adults came like an epiphany. She shares, “I was a case manager for Jewish Family Services because I needed to earn additional hours toward licensure. On my first assessment of a homebound senior, I was sent to the residence of a woman, a retired UCLA professor, about 73 or 74, who had suffered a massive stroke three months before.” Karen looked around the room and noticed photographs. “The circumference of the room was filled with photographs of this woman’s life. It was a full and vital life. That woman is all the women in these photographs. They are all inside of her, and she deserves your respect and attention. From that moment, I knew this was the work I had to do.”

Career and Job Description

Geriatric social workers are professional social workers who work with older adults that are usually over 65 years of age. They provide for their biological, social, and psychological needs. Their main goal is to maintain and enhance the lives of the older people.

Geriatric Social Worker At a Glance

  • Degree-Level Requirements: A minimum of bachelor’s degree in social work or gerontology is usually needed to start a career in geriatric social work. Most employers would prefer those that have master’s degree. Some of the geriatric social workers have nursing degrees.
  • Specialization: Clinical Interventions, Service Interventions, Consultations, and Advocacy. They work in a variety of settings.
  • Licensure Requirements: Although most social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting. Clinical social workers must obtain a license in the state they practice.
  • Median Annual Salaries: $ 54, 020 as of May 2015
  • Job Outlook: Employment of social workers is expected to grow 12 % from 2014 to 2024, depending on the specialty. This will be driven by increased demand in healthcare.

Due to the medical and public health advancements, people are living longer and the baby boomers are rapidly moving into senior status. In 2014, the Administration on Aging website indicated that older adults represented 4.5% of the population. This is about one in every seven Americans. By 2060, there will be about 98 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2014. ¬¬Geriatric social workers like Karen work hard to support this growing population.


Job Duties

If you plan to become a geriatric social worker, you will find yourself performing these things for the older adult population:

  • Help older adults adjust and cope with different problems that they experience.
  • Assess clients to determine their unique needs. This could be done through an interview with them, their family members, and other experts such as doctors and nurses.
  • If the older adults still reside in their homes, home visits can become an integral part of your interaction with them.
  • Once their needs are assessed, a plan is made to address their needs.
  • Apart from diagnostic assessment of their needs, periodic evaluation is also done to monitor their well-being and any changes in their needs.
  • You may also help them utilize services that could address their needs. For example, if your client is having financial problems, you could liaise between them and financial services or institutions.

Specializations and Work Setting

As a geriatric social worker, you can have a variety of specializations depending on your interest. You also have the option to work in a variety of settings.

  • Clinical interventions: If a client is suffering from anxiety or depression, therapy is provided. Some of the activities include group outings, recording life-long stories to cope with aging, and writing letters to their loved ones.
  • Service interventions: Geriatric social workers help their clients have access to public and private programs and services designed for aging.
  • Consultations: Conducting consultations with families, professionals, service agencies, communities, and legal systems are part of the job. It also includes working with interdisciplinary staff and paraprofessionals, participation in interdisciplinary teams, program development and evaluation.
  • Advocacy: Geriatric social workers are also the primary advocates for the well-being of these older adults. This includes stopping elder abuse from happening.

Apart from the specializations described above, geriatric social workers have the option to work in different settings such as:

  • Health care (hospitals, mental health clinics, outpatient primary care services, and nursing homes).
  • Educational institutions and research centers.
  • Other centers and organizations (adult day care, assisted living facilities, senior housing facilities, and rehabilitation centers).
  • Services and programs (protective services, bereavement services, faith-based organizations, nutrition programs, and life care communities).
  • Particular groups and communities such as veterans.

Educational Journey

In order to become skilled in working with older adults, you need an associates, bachelor’s or masters degree in psychology. Some programs specifically are tailored for Geriatric work. The level of education you need depends on the positions you are seeking.

Certification and Licensing Requirements

Research your state’s requirements to determine if a license or certification is required to practice as a geriatric social worker. Almost all states require geriatric social workers to be licensed; however some allow these social workers to work at their facilities, without a license or certification.
However, in order to provide clinical services to older adults, a master’s degree in social work/sociology, along with two to three years of clinical mental health experience (working with elderly/older adults), following graduation, is required to become licensed. Once you have completed all the licensure requirements, you will be required to take and pass the exam.
One Woman’s Experience as a Geriatric Social Worker .

Charis Stiles, MSW is a geriatric social worker who is a Friendship Line Manager at the Institute on Aging (IOA). IOA provides suicide prevention and trauma grief support to older adults. In an interview, she shares that being a geriatric social worker is such a rewarding experience:

“I have had so many rewarding experiences with clients–so many frail, dying individuals I’ve had the honor of working with and being present for, so many people I’ve been privileged to advocate for when they were not able to speak for themselves, so many grieving families I’ve been able to comfort and counsel. It’s been really incredible how many clients have really touched me.”

Doing a job that really motivates and inspires her, she wishes that more would love working with older adults. She givess a piece of advice to students, “I highly recommend taking whatever gerontology-focused classes your program offers. A basic course in death and dying is a wonderful asset, even just for you personally. I recommend reflecting on your own attitudes toward older individuals and being honest with yourself about your assumptions about the later stages of life.”

You can read the full interview here.

  • Reference & Data Information Provided by the Following:
  • Interview with Charis Stiles:
  • Administration on Aging: