April 19-25 marked 2020 Careers in Aging Week (CIAW). CIAW is hosted every year by the Gerontological Society of America to raise awareness about the diverse careers available in the field of aging. As people are living longer, populations are aging worldwide and the demands for professionals with expertise in aging grows, the Harvey A. Friedman Center for aging observes CIAW to highlight the impact the diverse careers at WashU bring to the field of aging.
To commemorate this week, the staff of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis is providing perspectives on their own careers in aging. Here, the team shares their insights:
Nancy Morrow-Howell, MSW, PhD, received her BSW and MSW from the University of Kansas and later went on to pursue her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. She began her academic career as an assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University and has been the Bettie Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy since 2013. Nancy has been Director of the Friedman Center for Aging since 2012.
Through her tenure at the Brown School and work at the Friedman Center, Nancy has focused on research in productive and civic engagement in later life, activity engagement in later life and community service to older adults. She looks at older adults as a diverse group – a mixture of “education, income, health, vigor, interest, and history.” This is how Nancy describes her work:
“What I love about working in the field of gerontology is that this diversity comes into play all the time. Many people think that ‘working with older adults’ means working in a nursing home or with people who have a cognitive impairment. This is important, but only a small part of the work in this field. My work has centered on older people who are seeking support in their career, to volunteer or provide assistance to other people. The field of aging is wide in response to this!”
Visit Nancy’s faculty page to learn more about her research and work in the field of aging.
Natalie Galucia, MSW began her career after receiving her MSW from the Brown School at Washington University and completing a practicum in Washington DC that provided her with both aging and social policy experience. Her first full-time position was as Member Services Coordinator for Village to Village Network, where she helped the national organization make a broad impact on aging in place (living in the home and community of your choice as you age). She went on to work as a Client Care Manager for a home care company. This position used more of Natalie’s interpersonal and clinical practice skills before she joined Nancy in academia as the Manager of the Center for Aging. Natalie says:
“I never would have imagined that I would have a career in aging. This was partly because I thought it was about working in a nursing home. Eventually, I began to have experiences in the field (outside of nursing homes) and I realized this is where my passion truly lies. I have already had a variety of roles in the field and each one has allowed me to contribute my skills in different ways. My experiences in gerontology have only scratched the surface. I look forward to continuing to grow and progress through my career in aging throughout my lifetime.”
Emma Swinford is a recent MSW/MPH graduate of the Brown School of Social work and is now a program coordinator for Friedman Center. Emma did not originally have a plan to work in the field of aging. When she left for college, one of the things she missed the most was meaningful intergenerational relationships like she had with her grandparents. She volunteered at a senior services agency and began to think more critically about the structure and services available to people aging in place or the homes and communities of their choice. This was a clear turning point for her in terms of the aging service network and how older adults are perceived.
Since focusing her education and career on the field of aging, Emma’s experiences have led her to offer this perspective and advice:
“I think there is so much to be gained by approaching aging issues with a broad lens and I appreciate how gerontology is a multidisciplinary field. I get to work alongside people with a variety of professional backgrounds, and I love learning from their perspectives. There is also the opportunity to work on multiple levels–from the individual scale to policy-level work and everything in between.
My advice for someone considering a career in aging would be to talk to as many people in the field as you can. There are so many directions you can go and so many ways to get involved, so allow yourself to be curious and explore.”
Throughout his time as a research assistant at Friedman Center, Jeff Brandt has added a unique perspective to our work. Jeff received a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and after working as an AmeriCorps VISTA and freelance writer, he moved to New York City to write. He began his career, not in aging, but in digital media. While in NYC, he spent time volunteering at nursing homes and met his spouse, a social worker. After this, he made the decision to work with older adults and social work was the most promising path. In May, Jeff will graduate from the Brown School of Social Work with his Masters in Social Work. He has loved his practicum experiences working in hospice and looks forward to a career in the field after graduation. As Jeff starts his career in aging, he offers these insights:
“Every day, I look forward to building relationships with older adults. I enjoy the getting-to-know-you phase of direct practice – the experiences, needs, and concerns clients have . . . But even more than that, I relish the opportunity to watch clients succeed in their goals as I stand beside them as a supportive guide. As a lover of stories and storytelling, I have been drawn to the rich life experiences of older adults. Anyone who has lived six decades or more has a wealth of interesting experiences and wisdom to share. I have been spiritually nourished by serving older adults and bearing witness to their stories.”
Tanner Meyer is also a research assistant who has contributed her skills to the Center’s work while pursuing her MSW at the Brown School of Social Work. Tanner mostly has experience working with youth, specifically those who have lost a parent or someone close to them. Her current practicum involves working with individuals aging with dementia. Tanner knows that when working with people with a dementia diagnosis, no two days are going to be alike. Yet, she adapting to the unknown environment, all with the purpose of serving the residents and loving them each as they are.
Tanner provides this advice to those thinking about or seeking a career in Aging:
“Speak to older adults, with and without dementia, like you would speak to your friend or partner. The best thing my supervisor told me was, ‘they may not remember your name, but they will remember how you make them feel,’ and that is how I approach each interaction. Older adults are full of life experiences and whether they can communicate or not, they should still be learned from and respected. I have learned to release my expectations and desire for control and to show up each day ready and willing to meet their needs. It is in the small, intimate moments with residents that I see the impact of person-centered care.”
The Friedman Center for Aging team has come from a variety of backgrounds and not all have landed in what most would consider a “traditional” career in aging. Each provides excellent examples of the diverse work and paths available in the field of gerontology. A final piece of advice: no one career in aging is exactly alike and if you are considering aging as a first, second, or third career choice, be sure to explore all it has to offer before making your final decision.