Geriatric Social Workers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Since you will need at least a bachelor's degree to advance in this field, prepare for college by taking a college prep curriculum. This should include math, science, and computer science classes. Other courses that will help you in this field include civics or government courses, in which you can learn about the enactment of laws, such as the Older Americans Act. Psychology and sociology courses will help you gain an understanding of human behavior and the process of aging as well as teach you methods for studying groups of people, such as the elderly. Take English classes to develop your writing, speaking, and researching skills—skills that you will need throughout your career.

Postsecondary Training

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in social work, psychology, sociology, or a related field is required for employment as a geriatric social worker, although many employers now require applicants to have a master’s degree. The Council on Social Work Education, which accredits bachelor's and master's programs in social work, has approved 529 programs granting the bachelor's degree in social work (B.S.W.) and 271 programs granting the master's degree (M.S.W.). The council offers a directory of accredited programs at The Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work provides contact information for more than 80 programs that offer the doctor of social work degree (D.S.W.) or Ph.D.'s in social work (visit its Web site at Accredited B.S.W. programs include courses in human behavior and the social environment, social welfare policy and services, social work practice, research, and field practicum. Most programs require two years of liberal arts study, followed by two years of study in the social work major. Students must also complete a field practicum of at least 400 hours.

Although no clear lines of classification are drawn in the social work profession, most supervisory and administrative positions require at least a master's degree in social work. Master's programs are organized according to fields of practice (such as mental health care), problem areas (substance abuse), population groups (the elderly), and practice roles (practice with individuals, families, or communities). They are usually two-year programs, requiring at least 900 hours of field practice.

Doctoral degrees are usually necessary for research and teaching. Many social workers with doctorates work in community organizations.

Other Education or Training

The National Association of Social Workers offers webinars and on-site continuing education (CE) opportunities. Past webinars included Older Adults Adjusting to New Life Challenges: How Social Workers Help, Professional Ethics and Social Networking, The Complexities of Elder Abuse, and Helping Families Face the Early Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education also provides CE classes and seminars. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers certification in several areas. All social workers who meet requirements, which include education, experience, and passing an exam, may receive the designation academy of certified social workers. In addition, the NASW offers more than 15 specialty certifications, such as qualified clinical social worker, clinical social worker in gerontology, social worker in gerontology, and advanced social worker in gerontology to those who meet specific education, practice, and other requirements. Although certification is voluntary, it is highly recommended for anyone wanting to advance in the field. Certification demonstrates that you have gained the knowledge and experience necessary to meet national standards.

The practice of social work is regulated in all states. To receive the necessary licensing, a social worker typically has to gain a certain amount of experience and pass an exam. Because requirements vary by state, you will need to check with the regulatory board in your state for specific information. Licensing information is also available from the Association of Social Work Boards (

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring geriatric social workers can obtain experience by participating in a field practicum and internships during college.

To be a successful geriatric social worker, you must care about the needs and problems of older people. Many of these people will rely on you to help them through crucial and difficult times; you must be completely dedicated to your clients and devoted to helping them maintain their dignity and sense of self-worth.

Most geriatric social workers are involved directly with the people they serve, and they are expected to carefully examine a client's living habits and family relations. A geriatric social worker has to be prepared to confront depressing situations occasionally. In most cases, though, a good geriatric social worker will take pleasure from helping a client through a rough time and will take pride in seeing the client improve his or her life. It is also important for a geriatric social worker to be good-natured and friendly; clients resistant to change may refuse to cooperate with someone they find unpleasant. A geriatric social worker must be very sensitive to the problems of the elderly and must also remain supportive and encouraging.