The Ryan Lounge was the place to be for those wanting more information about careers in the field of aging services last week. Sponsored by Gerontology @ UMass Boston, the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, and the Gerontology Honors Society, Sigma Phi Omega, the 15th annual Careers in Aging Panel Presentation took place on April 7, with approximately 150 students, practitioners, faculty, and experts in attendance.
The panel comprised four experts with careers in aging, in fields including academia, policy, and practice. Panelists included Elissa Sherman, president of Leading Age MA; Emmett Schmarsow, program manager at the Executive Offices of Elder Affairs; Len Fishman, former CEO of Hebrew Senior Life, currently a visiting scholar at the Heller Scholl at Brandeis University; and Jennifer Warren, executive director of Geriatric Care Management (CARE).
The dean of the McCormack Graduate School, Ira A. Jackson, welcomed the panelists and guests, and opened with a startling statistic: One of two children born today will live 100 years or longer. The implications of such longevity speak directly to the need for gerontologists in many disciplines. This fact underlaid a good deal of the discussion. Jackson applauded those who have chosen gerontology as their profession, noting that UMass Boston was the second university to offer a PhD program in gerontology and has produced the most PhDs in gerontology in the country.
All panelists described their personal trajectories into aging services. All have varied academic backgrounds; half of them entered the field because of experiences with grandparents or after working with elders as part-time workers, while one decided to focus on elder law after law school. One of the panelists, Jennifer Warren, earned her PhD in gerontology from UMass Boston.
The idea that no time has been more fortuitous for people entering the field was voiced by all of the panelists. There is a pressing need for aging services now that the baby boom cohort has entered its 60s. Panelists unanimously agreed that health care will be one area of tremendous job growth. It is predicted that by 2030, 25% of U.S. GDP will be spent on maintaining the health care system, with the number of senior citizens doubling by then. The need for health care professionals and geriatricians will be huge, offering opportunities for those with actual training in gerontology.
The purpose of the discussion was on careers and how to find one’s place in elder services in academia, policy work, and care organizations, to name a few; the panel represented all of these areas. All spoke about finding one’s own passion and strategies for figuring out where one’s skill best fit.
Advice for those entering the field was to take a pro-active stance:
- Find out what you really want to do in a career in aging; find someone doing it, and ask to intern or shadow. Doing so on a volunteer basis will give experience for clarifying one’s skills and strengths, as well as building confidence.
- Careers in policy making, economics, academia, care organizations, medicine, social work, and elder law, to name a few, are vital to work in the aging field. The need for practitioners has grown and will continue to grow well into the future.
- Let organizations know they need gerontologists with academic training and credentials. Earlier workers in the field did not have such training. With professional training on the graduate school level, students should demonstrate how their skills can benefit an organization.
- Network, network, network! This advice is pertinent to any field, and the panelists offered some effective approaches for doing so. (Students in attendance began networking with the panelists immediately after the presentation.)
Following the presentation and networking, Sigma Phi Omega, the Gerontology Honor Society, held its annual meeting and induction of new members. We thank outgoing officers Bon Kim, president; Brittany Gaines, vice president; and Emily Gadbois, treasurer, all of whom worked on organizing the event, which was a great success. Thanks also to Caitlin Coyle and Jaimee Ryan for assistance at the event.