By Natalie Galucia, MSW, Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging & Annie Wright, MSOT ’21, School of Medicine
Washington University has a variety of options available to students who are looking to pursue careers in aging. Throughout many different schools across both the Danforth and School of Medicine Campuses, students are focusing their learning to prepare for a career in aging. To get a taste of different degree paths and opportunities in the aging field available to students, current students provide their insights in this three part series. In each blog one of these students answered several questions to help us learn more about why they have chosen to pursue a career in aging and what their experiences have been so far.
Part three of this series focuses on Annie Wright. Annie is currently a grad students in the Program of Occupational Therapy at the School of Medicine. Annie recently wrote a blog post about her experiences living in an independent living facility and how that has impacted her education. Here is what else she had to say:
How do you plan to use your degree in the field of aging?
Annie: “My current goal is to work in a community setting on the population level, which includes all ages. Unfortunately, I haven’t narrowed my passion down to a specific topic but I’m hoping that my future work will help prevent diseases and disorders starting in early stages of life, which will eventually trickle down to older adults.”
Have you previously worked in the field of aging?
Annie: “I can’t say that I have “worked” in any field thus far, but a bulk of my volunteer experience was in an inpatient/outpatient therapy department of a hospital so we saw mostly older adults. I wasn’t originally drawn to OT because there was an opportunity to engage in the field of aging, but because I wanted to be in the health field and have a variety of settings and populations to explore. OT in particular resonated with me because I enjoy working with people for long periods of time and help address problems from multiple angles. However, since attending OT school, I have been given the opportunity to engage with older adults through my research and my position at the independent living facility where I live as a ‘student-in-residence.’ As a result, I think my comfort level has increased and I would like to work towards including the aging population in my career.”
What advice do you have those who are beginning to think about what career they may choose or those who are just starting out in the field of aging?
Annie: “My advice for people starting out in the field of aging to remember that older adults are not that different from young adults and should be treated in the same way you would treat any friend. Though your experiences may be worlds and generations apart, everyone shares core interests like family, friends, and hobbies. Really the only difference is that they require a little more patience. For example, I help older adults frequently with technology and I understand how slow the process can be. Not only are they learning a new skill, but they must also contend with slower cognition, reaction time, and less brain plasticity so it is a harder learning curve. Unfortunately, our society stereotypes older adults as slow and dim-witted because they can’t contend with technology that is finicky and changes every year and as a result, we treat older adults like that and they also believe it about themselves. It’s a vicious cycle that as someone who works with older adults, people must be ready to defy. But overall, I would recommend it.”
Would you recommend that others choose careers in aging? If so, why?
Annie: “Yes. The most satisfying part of working at Tower Grove Manor and doing research with older adults is building intergenerational relationships. I grew up in Asia, where inter-generational housing and interactions are more commonplace, though currently declining, so I value the unique transference of skills and knowledge between the young and old. It is really special to share that kind of “grandmotherly” bond with so many people that I see every day, and hearing their stories. Furthermore, there is also a satisfaction in bringing hope and life to an older generation, especially through new technology and ideas.
In addition to the reasons I previously stated, I think that working in the field of aging is really beneficial to the whole world. Giving older adults the chance to engage in the community with people will allow for invaluable knowledge and skills to be passed on to subsequent generations.”