Some choose to age like a fine wine while others rebel, staying young at heart. However one does it, aging is a part of life -- one that brings with it a myriad of physical, emotional and behavioral changes. Gerontology is the study of how we age, and how our life choices impact this process. Those who earn gerontology degrees can apply this knowledge in a very practical way to a number of different roles. Here is a quick review of what gerontology degree programs entail (and the type of jobs they might lead to).
Spotlight: Gerontology Degree Programs
Gerontology degree programs teach students about the human aging process, including the behavioral, physical, and even social changes that accompany it. Students also learn how behaviors adopted earlier in life, such as exercise, can influence one's overall well-being in their golden years. Gerontology degree programs vary in scope and emphasis, but The College Board reports that in addition to taking general education classes, students in most gerontology programs study the following topics:
- Biology of aging
- Sociology of aging
- Psychology of aging
- Death and dying
- Fieldwork in gerontology
The College Board mentions that students can earn gerontology degrees at either the undergraduate or graduate level. The degree that suits them best depends on their career goals. Students who want to give their resumes an additional boost can become student members of the Gerontological Society of America or the Sigma Phi Omega honor society, an honor reserved for those enrolled in gerontological and related health programs.
Beyond the Degree: Careers for Gerontology Grads
Gerontology majors develop skills and attain knowledge that is applicable to a myriad of careers -- and not just in the healthcare sector. The following are just a few of those positions.
- Recreational therapists plan and direct recreation-based treatment programs for patients who are sick, injured, or otherwise disabled. Programs can include elements of art, music, dance, sports and even drama. Many recreational therapists choose to work in geriatric facilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), recreational therapists typically earn at least a bachelor's degree before entering the field, and many employers require certification. The BLS projects demand for recreational therapists to grow by 13 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022 but emphasizes that prospects should be especially strong for those who work with the elderly.
- Social workers help people cope with and treat behavioral, emotional and developmental challenges. Many choose to work with a specific age group, such as the elderly. The BLS reports that most social workers require a bachelor's degree to enter the field, although clinical social workers must typically earn a master's degree and become licensed. National employment of social workers is expected to grow by 19 percent between 2012 and 2022, faster than the national average for U.S. occupations. Much of this growth should be driven by an aging baby boomer population, potentially increasing demand for those with gerontology degrees or certificates.
- Registered nurses, or RNs, provide basic medical care under the direction of physicians. They can work in a variety of settings, including geriatric clinics and homes. According to the BLS, RNs typically must hold an associate or bachelor's degree and pass a national licensing exam to enter the field. The BLS projects national demand for RNs to grow by 19 percent between 2012 and 2022.
Gerontology degrees may help qualify individuals for entry-level jobs in any of the above-listed careers listed, but graduates' options are not limited to those. They could serve as licensed practical nurses or orderlies at geriatric care facilities. They could become home health aides or occupational therapists that specialize in working with the elderly. Students can learn more about their options by visiting the BLS online or by contacting schools that offer gerontology degree programs.
"Major: Gerontology," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/multi-interdisciplinary-studies-gerontology
"Recreational Therapists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/recreational-therapists.htm
"Registered Nurses," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
"Social Workers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
"SPO Membership," Sigma Phi Omega, http://www.sigmaphiomega.org/membership.html
"Students," The Gerontological Society of America, http://www.geron.org/Students