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Careers in Aging

Career Opportunities

In 1987 the National Institute on Aging projected that the field of aging would grow dramatically, and that by 2000 many more professional gerontologists would be needed in a variety of fields (National Institute on Aging). Observations support these conclusions; however, it is widely accepted that instructional programs have not met the demand for trained professionals.

The recruitment of personnel for the field of aging, as with any profession, depends heavily on the innate attractiveness of the field, which usually includes such attributes as salary, job security, personal job satisfaction, and opportunity for advancement. Studies have found that the salaries of gerontology professionals are comparable to those of similar human service professionals (Peterson et al., 1995). Responses to surveys on job satisfaction indicate that 90 percent of respondents were satisfied with the education they received, and a similar percentage felt they had achieved reasonable career advancement. Job satisfaction was high, and led many persons to stay in the field of aging for many years (McLeran et al.).

Peterson, Wendt, and Douglas surveyed the career paths of gerontology professionals after they had completed a master's degree program in gerontology. They reported that when gerontology was a second career, advancement occurred 41 percent of the time.

It is widely believed that career opportunities are excellent in the field of aging. The book 100 Best Careers for the Year 2000 (Field) lists medicine as the best career, with gerontology the second most attractive. With the continuing increase in the size of the older population, there is a major undersupply of trained professionals, and persons with gerontology education will continue to be in demand. It is estimated that a total of over one million people work in all aspects of the field of aging (Kahl). However, fewer than ten thousand persons graduated annually with a gerontology degree, or even a course or two in gerontology (Peterson et al., 1982). The obvious conclusion is that most people who work in the field of aging have had little or no academic gerontology instruction. Gerontology education could enhance their understanding and effectiveness as skilled and knowledgeable professionals in aging. Participation in continuing education and in-service education programs, which are widely available, could meet this need.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, there is no precise definition of which jobs are included under the umbrella of occupations in aging. Some researchers would include all who come in contact with seniors regularly in the course of their work to be in the field of aging, while others would say that unless the work is primarily concerned with seniors and their age-related characteristics and concerns, it is not an aging occupation. The truth probably lies somewhere in between; a career in aging could be said to exist when a person's primary occupation is with or for persons over the age of sixty.

Some of the careers which are commonly accepted to fall within the scope of a career in aging include direct service jobs for the elderly, which can be found in counseling, housing, health care, recreation, retirement planning, and advocacy; program planning for seniors, which includes needs assessment, program design, and community planning; administration of senior-focused programs or organizations, which includes supervision of employees, financial management, and coordination of programs; education about or for seniors, which incorporates teaching college students, employed persons (through continuing education and in-service training), and the seniors themselves who seek practical and personal enrichment instruction; and research, incorporating the mental, physical, or social aspects of aging.

Job seekers have traditionally found these positions in mental and physical health facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes; in rehabilitation clinics, including physical and occupational therapy departments; social service centers, including senior centers and day care centers; through corporations' departments focusing on product design, marketing, and personal services; housing for independent and assisted living; community agencies providing coordination, funding, and public information; and federal, state, and local government programs.

The bridge from college to career can begin with a positive internship experience. College gerontology programs usually require a field placement assignment, which frequently leads to employment in the agency or business where the student is placed. The cooperating community agency becomes better informed on how gerontology-trained persons can enhance its business, and the student gains practical experience (McCrea, Nichols, and Newman).

Entering the profession can be greatly facilitated by institutions of higher education that establish job placement programs for their graduates. Through their contacts with community agencies, providers of internships, graduates, and professional colleagues, it is possible to create an employment network. This can also apply to employees who have been part of in-service training or continuing education programs. The computer provides on-line job searches as well. However, as in any new field, helping the potential employer see the advantages of a gerontology-trained person may be a vital step in job placement. Gerontology programs need to offer guidance for entering the job market that includes securing and preparing for interviews; students need to learn how to promote the advantages their gerontology skills bring to a particular employer.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 1Careers in Aging - Early Development Of The Field, The Contribution Of Higher Education, Career Opportunities, Future Career Opportunities