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As life expectancy in the U.S. continues to rise, the aging population grows more diverse, as do the needs and expectations concerning its health and well being. This demographic change fuels the demand for skilled professionals with expertise in the field of aging. If you are interested in working with older people -- helping them meet the physical, emotional, and social challenges that accompany the aging process -- an online bachelor's degree in gerontology can pave the way to many rewarding career possibilities.
This page introduces the field of gerontology and explains the training you will acquire in a bachelor's in gerontology program; it also provides examples of how this degree translates into employment opportunities.
What is Gerontology?
Gerontology addresses the processes of aging through a multidisciplinary lens, focusing on the experiences of individuals and groups from middle age through the end of life. A bachelor's in gerontology provides graduates with the knowledge and skills they need to assist the aging population as it navigates the changes and challenges during their lifespan.
The field draws on several areas of study, including biology , psychology, sociology, human services, public policy, and economics. Emerging specializations within the field not only reflect the range of evolving career possibilities, but they also mirror the diverse characteristics and needs of the aging population. These subdivisions include concentrations in areas like community health, family therapy, bereavement counseling, and geriatric care. They also include newer specialties in financial gerontology, gerontological criminology, and biomedical or life-extension gerontology.
One of the most versatile undergraduate majors, gerontology can lead to employment in public health, healthcare and nursing facilities, social services, and government agencies. A bachelor's in gerontology provides a sound foundation for graduate and professional training in fields like geriatric nursing, counseling, and healthcare management. In response to the demand for gerontology professionals of all kinds, colleges and universities have established new departments, including online gerontology degrees, which are staffed by academic gerontologists and researchers with master's and doctorate degrees. As more seniors maintain healthy and active lifestyles, they seek out physical trainers, nutritionists , and recreational specialists. The corporate sector increasingly employs designers, researchers, and other entrepreneurs to develop new products and services designed for older consumers.
What Can I Do with an Online Gerontology Bachelor's Degree?
The job outlook for graduates with online gerontology degrees is positive. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of healthcare social workers to increase by 16% from 2016 to 2026; it projects a 14% growth rate for family social workers. This section describes how skills acquired in a gerontology degree translate into career paths in both the public and private sectors, where gerontologists work, and what professions and salary levels you can expect.
Skills and Knowledge Gained
An online bachelor's degree in gerontology covers coursework and concentrations that train students for roles in healthcare, counseling, policy, and advocacy. The curriculum typically encompasses courses in research methods; physiology of aging; psychology of aging; healthcare management; and law, ethics and government policy. Gerontologists with only a bachelor's degree find employment in positions such as case managers, healthcare aides, and personal care assistants. Those who complete graduate or advanced training enter fields like geriatric nursing, social work , counseling, and recreational therapy. Some gerontologists work directly with elderly clients providing care and support, while others work in managerial positions in healthcare facilities, agencies, and private organizations that serve the diverse needs of the aging population.
This versatile degree delivers skills that directly translate into specialized careers. For example, students interested in working with the most vulnerable older populations -- those struggling with medical issues and long-term care -- focus on classes that prepare them for employment in healthcare facilities, hospitals, and clinics. Others find work in social service agencies that connect their clients with support services. Gerontology graduates who want to help their clients maintain and improve their quality of life complete courses or internships that help them acquire expertise in areas like nutrition and fitness, leading to employment in recreational and leisure programs for the elderly. Students planning to advocate on behalf of aging clients or seeking to work with lawmakers and policy analysts to shape the legal environment will benefit from coursework that examines federal policies and legislation. In addition to practitioners and advocates, researchers with data analysis skills in social trends and demographics will find positions in regional and federal government, as well as the business sector.
Careers and Salary Potential
Graduates of online gerontology programs work as caregivers, advocates, policymakers, and researchers. They often find employment in settings that deliver healthcare, community, and social services, and in government agencies and other specialized organizations. The versatility of employment opportunities requires a knowledgeable workforce with the appropriate attitudes to work with diverse aging populations. It also requires training to collaborate with other specialists -- including social workers, healthcare professionals, and service providers -- to improve the care and maintain the well being of their elderly clients.
- Hospitals: The elderly have longer hospital stays than younger patients and use more resources while admitted. As a result, many hospital hire caseworkers and counselors with gerontology backgrounds. Hospitals also employ geriatric RNs with the training to recognize the special needs of the aging population.
- Physicians' Offices: Older patients often experience anxiety related to their medical conditions and require support services to maintain their everyday life. Some physicians' offices employ gerontology-trained caregivers and counselors to address the concerns of the elderly and their families.
- Nursing and Residential Care Facilities: Gerontology graduates with backgrounds in long-term care administration or with training in healthcare services find employment in these custodial care settings. They offer psychological and social support to older individuals recovering from illness or to those unable to live independently or with their families.
- Government: Government agencies hire gerontologists to conduct research on aging and to work in policy areas to craft legislation and regulations that affect federally-sponsored healthcare insurance and other social service programs.
- Outpatient Care Centers: These centers provide medical and support services that do not require overnight admission. Gerontologists often work with the elderly in outpatient centers, administering services such as psychological, substance abuse , or nutritional counseling.
Medical and Health Service Managers
Annual Median Salary : $98,350
These managers work in many settings including facilities for the elderly. They may manage an entire organization or a single clinical department. They must have experience in healthcare services and administration, and stay abreast of changes in laws and regulations.
Health Educators and Community Health Workers
Annual Median Salary : $45,360
Health educators teach people the skills they need to maintain their health. Community health workers provide information on health concerns to members of specific groups most affected by these issues. They may work in community agencies, government offices, schools, and businesses.
Annual Median Salary : $49,009
Gerontologists conduct research to understand the aging process and to chart trends in aging. They work in a variety of settings depending on their specialization, including research hospitals, clinical facilities, and higher education institutions.
Annual Median Salary : $41,845
Healthcare coordinators formulate and implement patient care treatment plans, developing a care program that meets the needs of their patient and complies with medical and legal regulations. Typical employers include medical facilities and rehabilitation centers.
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