Seventy-two million. In 2030, that’s the expected population aged 65 and older. That represents almost one in five Americans.
As more and more baby boomers reach retirement age, the United States is experiencing a shortage of people trained to meet the unique needs of older adults. In an effort to help close this gap, the Gamma Upsilon chapter of UMass Boston’s Sigma Phi Omega national gerontology honor society sponsored a Careers in Aging Week event at UMass Boston.
The April 8 event featured a career panel and luncheon for interested students, adult learners, faculty, career counselors, and others. Panelists included Jane Saczynski, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at UMass Medical School; Suzanne Leveille, PhD, RN, director of the PhD Program in Nursing at UMass Boston; Emily Shea, commissioner of the Boston Commission on Affairs of the Elderly; and Andrea Cohen, CEO at HouseWorks.
Panelists shared their own education and career trajectories and offered their advice to students considering a career in the aging field. Although the details of their backgrounds and guidance tips for students varied per person, there were many common threads.
First, panelists acknowledged that gerontology is a multidisciplinary field and, among the four panelists, they have had educational backgrounds or work experience in cognitive psychology, epidemiology, family studies, human development, nursing, physiology, public affairs, public health, public policy, and sociology/social work.
Second, they acknowledged the broad range of career opportunities available in academia, advocacy, community-based organizations, health care and caregiving, housing, nonprofits, and public affairs/public policy, and research.
Next, they offered sage advice for future gerontologists about collaborations.
“Find a mentor and develop and maintain good networks,” noted Jane Saczynski, “including peer mentors in your classes and workplaces.”
Several noted that, due to the interdisciplinary nature of the aging field, that students should broaden their training with electives outside their academic major.
Suzanne Leveille suggested that future aging specialists “embrace opportunities to work with innovators−people who develop and test new programs.” She also noted, “You never get the job you love right away. So do an internship, gain practical experience, volunteer, and attend informational interviews” until that perfect job comes along.
Entrepreneur Andrea Cohen wrapped up the panelists’ presentation with advice on choosing a specialty within the field of aging services, committing to a cause, and taking risks.
In the end, despite different paths taken, it was evident that all four panelists shared a passion, commitment, and joy for their work.
The event was sponsored by the undergraduate Gerontology Program at the College of Public and Community Service, the Office of Career Services and Internships, the Graduate Student Assembly, the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing; and the Department of Gerontology, the Gerontology Institute, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.