Guide on Becoming a Geriatric Social Worker
As the average age of the U.S. population increases, the need for social services is likely to grow. Ensuring our older adults are fed, protected and cared for falls to the hands of younger generations willing to help care for aging baby boomers. One caregiver role is a geriatric social worker. People who choose this career path should be empathetic, compassionate and patient and enjoy spending time with seniors. Learn why and how to become a geriatric social worker.
Steps to Become a Geriatric Social Worker
Below, we list some common steps to become a geriatric social worker. This pathway may look different depending on your background, current education, and ultimate career goals.
Step 1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
The foundation for licensure as a gerontology social worker is to earn a Bachelor of Social Work degree from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) or related degrees such as a sociology or psychology degree. Courses might include human behavior and social welfare policy and research. As an undergraduate student, you will also gain experience through an internship.
Step 2. Gain work experience
During your internship and post-grad, you may choose to gain experience working with older populations. This may help with earning credentials later (see Step 5).
Step 3. Earn a master’s degree
If you choose to pursue licensure at the master’s or clinical level, a Master of Social Work (MSW) may be required. Requirements vary by state. You may be able to find entry-level social work positions with a bachelor’s degree. Some MSW programs may offer a specialization in gerontology.
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Step 4. Obtain a license
Whether you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree or master’s level licensure, requirements vary by state; most usually require an exam and at least 3,000 hours or two years of supervised clinical experience. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) offers five different social work exams. The state and level of social work licensure in which you want to practice will determine the necessary level of exam.
Step 5. Earn an optional geriatric certification.
The National Association of Social Work (NASW) offers two geriatric social work credentials: Social Worker in Gerontology (SW-G) for bachelor’s level social workers with at least three years of experience, and Advanced Social Worker in Gerontology (ASW-G) for master’s level social workers with at least two years of experience. Be sure to refer to the NASW for specific requirements.
Should I Become a Geriatric Social Worker?
Before you start your social work journey, ask whether this path is right for you. Should you become a social worker? Geriatric social workers provide services to older adults to help combat challenges they face as a result of aging. If you’d feel comfortable supporting the well-being of older people as they progress through life, becoming a geriatric social worker may be a career for you.
What is a Geriatric Social Worker?
A geriatric social worker helps older adults, usually people over 65, deal with and overcome many challenges and helps connect their clients to resources and services they need. In geriatric social work, you may address financial issues, mental health problems and healthcare needs by working with the client, the client’s family, friends, healthcare providers, attorneys and those in the community such as banks, utility companies and government agencies.
When licensed, a geriatric social worker holds a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, has some on-the-job experience, and can be hired by a facility, organization, agency, family or the client.
As you begin your search for the right gerontology program, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. To become a geriatric social worker, you will need to invest some time toward licensure. Although a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree may be a minimum requirement for some roles, licensure may require post-degree experiences. Be sure to check with your state for licensure requirements.
Degree Programs for Geriatric Social Workers
If you are seeking a master’s level degree in social work, several CSWE-accredited institutions offer MSW advanced standing programs that take less time to complete for students with an undergraduate social work degree. In addition, there are many online MSW programs with no GRE requirement. Other education options include online or on-campus Master of Social Work degree programs, a graduate certificate, and a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW). Here is a look at each program:
- An online MSW program provides students flexibility and the opportunity to take classes anywhere there is an internet connection.
- A graduate certificate is an ideal option for the student seeking to refine their skills or add a specialization to their existing social work proficiencies.
- A Doctorate of Social Work is the most advanced degree in social work and allows you to conduct research that could help fellow practitioners and advance social work.
Successful geriatric social workers may possess skills beyond compassion, empathy and patience. Some suggested skills include:
- Knowledge of elder abuse: You must be able to detect elder abuse to protect your client from dangerous relationships.
- Ability to work with a variety of people: You will work with a wide range of people when caring for seniors, including doctors, lawyers, family and friends.
- Knowledge of social services and programs: Know about available programs and services in your area to provide your client with the best care.
- Advocacy: As people age, they can become vulnerable and might need someone to stand up and speak for them when they cannot.
What is the Role of a Geriatric Social Worker?
A geriatric social worker cares for adults over the age of 65. Your daily activities while in this role may vary. However, the following responsibilities are typical:
- Notify families of necessary healthcare services available
- Help make health decisions that protect the well-being of your clients
- Counsel caregivers to ensure your clients’ needs are met
- Speak to healthcare professionals to understand and advocate for your clients
- Coordinate activities to enrich your clients’ physical and mental health
- Advise families of specialized care to meet the needs of your clients
- See to your clients’ mental and physical wellness
- Work with high-risk clients in difficult financial situations
Work Settings of a Geriatric Social Worker
Since the field of social work is so broad, you can find positions in diverse settings. That holds true for specializations like geriatric social work. Not only can you find jobs in various areas, but depending on the client, circumstances, and work environment, your social work requirements might change. Typical places you may find a geriatric social worker include:
- Assisted living communities
- Clients’/patients’ homes
- Government agencies
- Health clinics
- Nursing homes
- Private practice
- Senior centers
- Social services
How Much do Geriatric Social Workers Make?
The average pay for all social workers was $51,760 in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), although pay can vary depending on education, job experience and geographical location. Projected social work job growth through 2029 is 13%, much faster than the average rate for all occupations. With all baby boomers reaching 65 in less than a decade, pressures on healthcare and social services could have the potential to push the job growth even higher.
Geriatric Social Worker Certification and Licenses
As mentioned above in the steps to become a geriatric social worker, you may choose to pursue an NASW credential:
- Social Worker in Gerontology (SW-G): The SW-G credential requires the following:
- Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a CSWE-accredited program
- At least three years experience working with older adults under social work supervision
- Twenty contact hours of continuing education related to working with older adults or proof of aging/gerontology concentration on transcripts
- One of the following: ACBSW, BSW-level license, BSW-level exam passing score, or one additional year of experience with 10 additional contact hours of continuing education
- Adherence to the ethics, standards in long-term care facilities, and continuing professional education by the NASW
- Advanced Social Worker in Gerontology (ASW-G): The ASW-G credential requires:
- Master’s in social work degree from a CSWE-accredited program
- Twenty contact hours of continuing education related to working with older adults
- At least two years working with older adults
- Current MSW-level license and passing master’s level exam score
- Adherence to NASW Code of Ethics and Standards for Continuing Professional Education
Geriatric Social Worker Resources
- American Geriatrics Society: This nonprofit group advocates for patient care, education, research and public policy. Its members are healthcare professionals dedicated to improving the quality of life of seniors.
- Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB): This nonprofit social work organization is composed of regulatory boards from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and all 10 Canadian provinces.
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW): With more than 120,000 members, the NASW is the world’s largest professional social worker organization.
- Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration on Aging: This HHS division provides seniors with resources to help them live longer, healthier lives.
Information on this page was last retrieved in June 2021.