Spotlight on Geriatric Social Work

As we mentioned in a previous post, it’s projected that the geriatric population will grow steadily throughout the next few decades. In fact, by 2030, there will be a 75 percent increase in the number of Americans requiring nursing home care. A corresponding influx of health care professionals focused on geriatrics is needed to ensure that these older adults get the care they need and deserve. recently spoke with Robyn Golden, LCSW, about this matter. As Associate Vice President of Population Health and Aging at Rush University Medical Center, the past Chair of the American Society of Aging and the current Co-chair of the National Coalition on Care Coordination, she’s an expert. For the past 25 years, she’s been involved in service provision, program development, education, research and public policy for the aging population. (EHC): In your opinion, why is there such an increasing need for professionals in geriatric social work and gerontology?
Robyn Golden (RG): The demographic demands in the field are getting to be astronomical. I spend tons of time trying to get people interested in working with older adults as social workers. Students think it’s sad or depressing, but it’s not. Older adults are so much more poised to make change. They’re not burdened by their job, instead they’re looking for meaning in their lives.

It’s a career that keeps on giving. I get a lot out of helping people and knowing that I’m making a difference. Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of students who graduate from different master’s programs and it’s fascinating. They’re coming here because they didn’t feel like they were making enough of a difference in the lives of older adults and their support systems, whether it be their family, neighbor or caretaker.

EHC: What inspired you to enter into this field?
RG: When I started, I took a few clients in a family service agency and helped those who were older. They’re very open and they’re searching for someone to have a relationship with. And not that you become their friend, but as a professional social worker, you fill that need for them. It allows for them to feel better about themselves and see there’s a place for them in the world.

EHC: What advice do you have for students interested in going into geriatric social work and gerontology?
RG: Find other people who are interested in aging and create a support system. You’ll want to network with those interested and there are opportunities and a lot of events and programs are available to let you do so. It helps to reinforce the importance of our field.

EHC: What is the most surprising aspect of work with population health and aging?
RG: There’s a demand in this field that we don’t get close to meeting. In this field, we’ll always have a job because there is so much to do and so many older adults to assist.

EHC: Was there a moment when it was confirmed that this was the right profession for you?
RG: It was confirmed when I would go to meetings and being able to see camaraderie between people who want to do creative things. I liked being able to see others have the passion and excitement of working with older adults. It has such an impact when you’re a part of a pact to accomplish something across the country. It’s a rush, a movement. It’s a movement that hasn’t grown like it should.

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