Question: Are there any MSW programs in Geriatric Social Work (Gerontological Social Work)?

Answer: Yes, there are currently 60 campus-based MSW programs and 11 online programs with specializations or sub-specializations in geriatric social work. These programs typically focus on the mental, emotional, sociocultural, and financial challenges that elderly adults may face, and how social workers can support their elderly clients through these challenges. Students of these programs generally learn how to use a combination of clinical social work methodologies, knowledge of public benefits and support systems, and client advocacy to help elderly individuals lead physically, emotionally, socially, and financially healthy lives.

Prospective MSW students who are interested in geriatric social work (also known as gerontological social work) can receive graduate training in this area through a number of different avenues. Social workers who work with aging adults must have in-depth knowledge of the challenges these individuals face as a result of their age, including but not limited to age discrimination, declining health, social isolation, depression, financial insecurity, and the increased need for medical and other services which can tax their and their family’s resources. In addition, social workers must know how to support aging and elderly adults through clinical therapeutic practice, help their clients access public and private resources for the elderly, and assist them in navigating important familial and social relationships in their journey to improved mental, emotional, and physical health.

There are four general types of MSW programs that offer training in geriatric or gerontological social work to prepare students for this impactful area of practice:

  • MSW Programs with a Specialization in Geriatric Social Work: These programs have a formal specialization in geriatric or gerontological social work, where students a set of classes designed to train them to work with elderly individuals and their families, helping them coordinate medical care with mental health care, address emotional health challenges specific to aging populations, and ensure elderly individuals have the support systems to cope with changing circumstances.
  • MSW Programs with a Sub-Specialization in Geriatric Social Work: These programs typically have a broader formal specialization in areas such as clinical social work or adult mental health, but also feature a sub-specialization or track consisting of a small number of courses specifically in geriatric care.
  • MSW Programs with an Optional Graduate Certificate in Gerontology Social Work: These programs tend to have a concentration or specialization in a more general area of social work, such as clinical social work, adult mental health, trauma, or advanced generalist practice, but also offer an optional graduate certificate in gerontological social work that students can take to supplement their main studies at the master’s level. For some programs, students can take the graduate certificate coursework as part of their elective options, and for other programs, the graduate certificate is designed to be completed separately from the master’s curriculum.
  • MSW Programs with Geriatric Social Work Electives: These programs do not have a specialization or sub-specialization in geriatric or gerontological social work, but they do have a variety of electives that cover key topics in caring for elderly and aging populations.

As the above program descriptions illustrate, there are many options for students who are interested in gerontological social work to obtain their desired training in the field. MSW programs with specializations, sub-specializations, and graduate certificates in geriatric social work tend to have commonalities across their gerontology-specific coursework–for example, all of these programs tend to cover aging populations’ mental health and psychosocial development; medical, financial, familial, and cultural challenges that elderly individuals face; and how evidence-based practice and patient advocacy play into holistic care of aging adults.

However, despite these commonalities, there may also be differences in the curricula across MSW programs in geriatric social work. For instance, while one MSW program may focus more on trauma prevention and treatment amongst the elderly, another MSW program may have a stronger emphasis on medical care coordination and advocacy for aging and ailing patients. To ensure that they select a program that best prepares them for their desired careers, students should contact the admissions offices of the programs that interest them for the most up-to-date curriculum details.

Campus, Hybrid, and Online MSW Programs in Gerontological Social Work

As mentioned previously, there are currently 60 campus-based MSW programs (including programs that offer hybrid instruction models that combine in-person and online instruction) and 11 online programs in gerontological social work. Campus-based programs can be ideal for students who prefer in-person discussions and interactions with faculty and course peers, and for students who live near a college or university offering this specialization so that commuting to campus for classes is relatively easy. Students who prefer or need more scheduling flexibility, and who might want to attend a program that is not within their region or state of residence, might want to consider online MSW programs in gerontology.

Online MSW programs provide some distinct advantages over campus-based programs, including allowing students to attend classes and complete assignments from anywhere as long as they have a suitable computer and an internet connection. In addition, and particularly for students residing in rural areas, online MSW programs open up greater options for those who do not live within commuting distance of a program with their desired specialization (especially for students who cannot relocate to pursue their MSW degree). However, online programs are not for all students, as they require more self-motivation and self-discipline to keep up with the intensive workload that MSW programs require, particularly in the absence of regularly scheduled lectures and discussions sessions.

Examples of online MSW programs in Geriatric Social Work include:

  • Aurora University’s online Master of Social Work with a Track in Gerontology: Aurora University’s MSW with a track in Gerontology teaches students the skills and knowledge to care for elderly clients in medical care settings as well as nursing homes and other gerontological contexts. Students learn how to assess elderly and aging clients’ needs and to design interventions that effectively and empathetically meet these needs.
  • The Ohio State University’s online Master of Social Work with an Area of Emphasis in Aging and Health: Ohio State University’s MSW with an Area of Emphasis in Aging and Health features integrative seminars that cover the social, emotional, biological, and psychological changes that aging adults experience, and the role of the social worker in combining preventative care, mental and emotional health counseling, and patient advocacy to ensure the holistic health of their elderly clients.
  • The University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s online Masters of Science in Social Work with a Concentration in Evidence-Based Interpersonal Practice (EBIP) and a Certificate in Gerontology Social Work: The University of Tennessee’s MSSW program gives students who are interested in direct work with clients a concentration option in Evidence-Based Interpersonal Practice, on top of which students can add a graduate certificate in Gerontology Social Work that covers psychosocial and behavioral developments for adults later in life, the social aspects of aging, and EBIP as it relates to the specific needs of elderly individuals and coordinating care with their families/support systems.

Online MSW programs in gerontology employ two types of instruction: asynchronous and synchronous instruction. While asynchronous instruction is highly flexible as it allows students to view course content and complete assignments on their own time (as long as they abide by assignment deadlines), synchronous instruction more closely approximates in-person classroom learning as students are required to attend lectures and discussions in real-time using video conferencing software. For more information about instructional modes for online MSW programs, please refer to our FAQ on Instruction Methods for Online MSW programs.

Note: Students who are interested in online MSW programs in gerontology should note that field education requirements must always be fulfilled in-person at a local social work agency or other worksite that relates to the mental and/or medical care of geriatric patients. For more information about field education for MSW programs in gerontology, refer to the section on field education below.

Curriculum Details for MSW Programs in Geriatric Social Work

MSW programs in geriatric social work generally include courses in clinical practice with elderly clients, neurobiology across the lifespan, and working with vulnerable populations in individual and group settings. In addition, these programs tend to give students an idea of the important contexts and systems their elderly clients must navigate, including the medical care and health insurance systems, social security and other government aid, and the sociopolitical forces that impact elderly adults’ ability to maintain employment or afford a good standard of living. Online MSW programs in geriatric social work may also require students to complete one or more of their field practicums in settings that enable them to work with older adults in clinical, human services, and/or social justice environments.

Below is a sample curriculum chart outlining the program requirements for an MSW program in geriatric social work. Please note that these program requirements are for informational purposes only, and are not meant to exactly represent an existing MSW program.

Curriculum ComponentExample Courses and Field Education Requirements
Core Courses
  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment
  • Foundations of Social Work Practice
  • Social Work Policy and Advocacy
  • Social Work Research
  • Clinical Assessment and Diagnosis
Concentration Courses
  • Mental Health and Aging
  • Integrated Health Care for the Aging and Elderly
  • The Biology of Aging
  • Psychosocial Function and the Elderly
  • Advanced Clinical Practice with Older and Aging Adults
  • Diversity of Experiences Amongst the Aging and Elderly
  • Legal and Ethical Aspects of Mental Health for the Elderly
  • Policy Advocacy for the Elderly
Elective Courses
  • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Addictions
  • Complex Social Work Cases
Field Education Requirements
  • Foundational Field Practicum and Integrative Field Seminar
  • Advanced Field Practicum and Integrative Field Seminar

Courses for MSW programs in geriatric social work may include but are not limited to:

  • Integrated Health Care for the Aging and Elderly: How social workers can support elderly patients in integrated care contexts that include primary and preventative health care, mental and behavioral health care interventions, inpatient and acute care considerations, and community support and resources. Students in this course learn how to coordinate care in collaboration with different practitioners who comprise a patient’s health care team.
  • Advanced Clinical Practice with Older and Aging Adults: An in-depth course that covers advanced clinical social work modalities and their use in working with elderly clients suffering from mental, emotional, physical, and familial/social challenges. Students learn how to conduct clinical assessment and diagnosis of complex conditions, develop and oversee ongoing client treatment plans, and manage client transitions from different levels of behavioral health care.
  • Mental Health and Aging: Students examine and discuss the major mental, emotional, and psychosocial challenges that the elderly face at different stages in the aging process. They also learn about the normal biological process of aging and how it impacts an individual’s emotions and cognition.
  • Diversity of Experiences Amongst the Aging and Elderly: The importance of considering generational/age-based, ethnic, cultural gender, and sexual diversity when working with clients and their families who are encountering the ramifications of aging. The role that diversity plays in accurate clinical assessments and the development of empathetic and effective client interventions. Students also discuss the difference in the aging experience between different demographic groups, including men vs. women and the racially and socioeconomically marginalized groups vs. affluent communities and demographics that constitute the social majority.
  • The Biology and Sociology of Aging: The physical changes that the human body undergoes throughout the process of aging, and the health problems that are common amongst the elderly. How the biology of aging intersects with the familial and social changes that people experience as they age, and how the social worker can take all of these facets of the aging process into account when assessing and formulating interventions for elderly clients.
  • Policy Advocacy for the Elderly: An overview of the government systems and policies that impact the well-being of elderly individuals in the United States. Medicare, Social Security, and laws protecting the elderly are discussed, as are laws and regulations that directly or indirectly disadvantage this demographic. The role of the social worker in advocating for new policies and policy revisions that support the health, independence, and quality of life of aging adult populations.

Field Education for MSW Programs in Geriatric Social Work

MSW programs in geriatric or gerontological social work typically require students to complete one or both of their field practicums in a setting that gives them relevant experience in providing clinical therapy, direct social services, and care coordination to the elderly. Such settings may include but are not limited to hospitals, residential treatment centers, community health centers, retirement communities, palliative care and hospice care settings, outpatient behavioral health care centers, and Veteran Affairs medical centers. Due to the fact that individuals face increasing physical health challenges as they age, MSW students may find that geriatric social work settings necessitate, not only mental and behavioral care, but also medical and residential care coordination. While this means that MSW students who specialize in geriatric social work may have to take on complex and multifaceted responsibilities during their practicums, the integrated and interdisciplinary nature of geriatric care may also broaden the number of possible practicum sites from which students can choose.

MSW programs vary in terms of how they manage students’ field practicum placements. Some programs actively match students with suitable practicum sites and supervisors, making sure to align students’ placements with their stated academic interests, professional goals, and region of residence. Other programs require students to find their own practicum placements by researching prospective social work settings, reaching out to potential supervisors, and interviewing at these sites before submitting their practicum placement selection to their program for approval. Regardless of how their program handles the practicum placement process, MSW students in geriatric social work should connect with their program’s field education director and staff to proactively discuss their learning objectives and to research potential practicum sites well in advance of the term in which they are due to start their field education.

Even for students of programs that match them with practicum sites and supervisors, it is generally advantageous for them to be engaged in and vocal about their own field placement placements. For more information on field education for MSW programs, including the essential steps to success in completing one’s field practicums, please refer to our comprehensive Guide to Field Education.

All MSW Programs in Geriatric / Gerontological Social Work

T Traditional programs, Advanced Standing programs, Campus programs, Hybrid programs (campus and online instruction), Hybrid-Online programs (3 to ~6 campus visits per year), Online programs (fully online to 2 campus visits per year)
Filter By Program Type:

Alabama

Alabama State University

(Montgomery)

California

California State University, Chico

(Chico)

California State University, Fullerton

(Fullerton, Irvine)
Department: Department of Social Work
CSWE Accreditation Status: Fully Accredited
Programs:

California State University, Long Beach

(Long Beach, Santa Rosa, Ventura)

California State University, Sacramento

(Sacramento)
Department: Division of Social Work
CSWE Accreditation Status: Fully Accredited
Programs:

University of Southern California

(Los Angeles)
Department: Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work
CSWE Accreditation Status: Fully Accredited
Programs:

Connecticut

Hawaii

University of Hawai'i at Manoa

(Honolulu)
Department: Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work
CSWE Accreditation Status: Fully Accredited
Programs:

Maryland

Morgan State University

(Baltimore)
Department: School of Social Work
CSWE Accreditation Status: Fully Accredited
Programs:

University of Maryland

(Baltimore, Rockville)

Michigan

Eastern Michigan University

(Ypsilanti)

New York

Long Island University Post and Long Island University Brooklyn Collaborative

(New York City (Brooklyn), Brookville)

Ohio

Bowling Green State University

(Bowling Green)

Case Western Reserve University

(Cleveland)
Department: Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences
CSWE Accreditation Status: Fully Accredited
Programs:

Utah

The University of Utah

(Salt Lake City, St. George)
Department: College of Social Work
CSWE Accreditation Status: Fully Accredited
Programs: