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Gerontology Careers: Outlook, Opportunities, and Salary

The healthcare field is experiencing a shortage of nurses and doctors as more medical professionals retire and the population ages. As a result, the specialty of gerontology is seeing a growing demand for qualified nurses and healthcare professionals.

Gerontology encompasses the study of the mental, physical, and social characteristics of older adults and how these factors are impacted by the aging process. In relation to healthcare, gerontology consists of providing medical treatment and offering strategies for disease prevention to older adults.

A young gerontology nurse in blue scrubs is seated beside a laughing elderly person

Individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in the medical field and working with the elderly population can consider enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program in general studies with a concentration in healthcare, which includes a professional exploration focus in gerontology. By earning a degree in healthcare, individuals can take the first step in pursuing any of a variety of gerontology careers.

Industries Hiring Gerontology Graduates

The elderly population in the U.S. is increasing. As of July 2019, the number of U.S. residents over the age of 65 reached 54 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The nation’s baby boomer population accounts for about 15% of the total population. As the number of older adults continues to grow, the need for professionals in the field of gerontology to provide them with proper medical attention will continue to grow as well.

Since gerontology is focused on the aging process, professionals in a variety of industries and occupations contribute to the field through research, administration, and practice. Gerontology impacts many disciplines, including social work, physiology, public health, policy, psychology, and social science. Individuals can pursue gerontology careers in any of these fields.

Gerontology graduates are most likely to find jobs in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and patient’s homes. However, their job location will depend on the specific occupation they decide to pursue.

Gerontology Career Opportunities

Pursuing a degree in healthcare — specifically, gerontology — can lead to a wide variety of career options. The following four job opportunities are potential gerontology careers:

Occupational therapist. Professional occupational therapists evaluate the recovery needs of patients with certain medical conditions or disabilities or those that have suffered serious injuries. Occupational therapists help seniors maintain independence by improving their ability to complete essential tasks. They also aid in recovery from conditions related to aging such as stroke and arthritis. 

Geriatric social worker. Professionals in this field help elderly patients transition back to their homes from hospitals or outpatient care facilities. They may also provide therapy for older adults who experience mental health problems related to their medical conditions.

Health educators and community health workers. Gerontologists who work in these related roles provide educational resources and health improvement strategies for older adults in their communities. Health educators host community events and develop educational materials, while community health workers conduct outreach programs and facilitate access to healthcare services. 

Gerontology nurse. Registered nurses (RNs) may choose to specialize in caring for elderly patients. While not all registered nurses care for older adults, some may choose to pursue certification that allows them to specifically provide patient care for the elderly population. Gerontology nurses focus on treating medical conditions affecting seniors such as injuries, mobility issues, or heart disease.

Salary and Job Outlook for Gerontology Careers

The specific salaries professionals earn in these four gerontology careers will vary according to their education, level of experience, geographic location, place of work, and other factors. However, the following are the median annual salaries and projections for job growth of each position, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Occupational therapist. Professionals in this field should begin by earning a bachelor’s degree. Occupational therapists typically need to earn a master’s degree, conduct fieldwork, pass a national exam, and become licensed before they can practice. They have a median annual salary of $84,950. The projected job growth rate is 18% between 2018 and 2028. 

Geriatric social worker. Professional social workers can begin by earning their bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field. Individuals may choose to pursue a master’s degree, which is required to become a clinical social worker. Both clinical and nonclinical social workers typically need to be licensed to practice. They have a median annual salary of $50,470. The projected job growth rate is 11% between 2018 and 2028.

Health educators and community health workers. These professionals can work specifically as gerontologists. They should begin by earning a bachelor’s degree. Some employers require certification, such as the Certified Health Education Specialist credential. These professionals have a median annual salary of $46,910. The projected job growth rate is 11% between 2018 and 2028.

Gerontology nurse. Nurses need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become registered nurses. Many RNs earn a bachelor’s degree, though it is not required. They have a median annual salary of $73,300. The number of gerontology nurse jobs is projected to grow by 12% between 2018 and 2028.

Pursue a Career in Gerontology

Individuals interested in contributing to the healthcare field by providing care for elderly adults can consider pursuing a gerontology career. Professionals across a variety of fields and industries care for the medical, social, emotional, and physical well-being of the nation’s aging population. People who are currently working in social work, healthcare, nursing, or therapy already have the skills and experience necessary to make the transition to the field of gerontology. Students who are beginning their educational journeys have a variety of gerontology career options available to them.

Those who are interested in earning an online bachelor’s degree in general studies with a concentration in healthcare can look into the program at Maryville University. Courses related to gerontology in the curriculum include Aging and Physiological Adaptation, Exercise & Rehabilitation in the Aged, Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care, and The Changing Face of Aging in a Multicultural Society.

If you are interested in pursuing a gerontology career, discover more about how the online Bachelor of Arts in General Studies with a Concentration in Healthcare degree with a professional exploration focus in gerontology can help you work toward your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

Healthcare Careers

The Future of Healthcare: Trends, Technology & New Skills for Success

The Future of Public Health: Skills for Helping Communities Thrive

Sources

Doctorly, “How to Become a Gerontologist” The Gerontological Society of America, What Is Gerontology?

Maryville University, “How to Become a Geriatric/Gerontology Nurse”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Educators and Community Health Workers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Therapists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers

U.S. Census, Older Population and Aging