Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Preparing for a Career in Aging: Part I

Written by Natalie Galucia, MSW, Center Manager, Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging & Meghan McDarby, M.A., Psychological & Brain Sciences

Washington University has a variety of options available to students pursuing careers in aging. Across both the Danforth and School of Medicine Campuses, students are preparing for this field. To get a taste of the different degree paths and opportunities available, students are providing their insights in this three-part blog series. Each blog features a Q&A with students about why they have chosen to pursue a career in aging and what their experiences have been so far.

Part I:  Meghan McDarby, Bachelor’s Degree in Human Development, Cornell University and PhD candidate, Clinical Psychology at the School of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis

How do you plan to use your degree in the field of aging?

Meghan: “My dream is to conduct research about experiences in palliative and end-of-life care settings. I am interested in the way that patients and their providers communicate about important end-of-life care decisions and information, and I would like to use my background in aging/clinical psychology to inform this research. I also hope that I can continue to work with and mentor undergraduate students who are interested in age-related careers.”

Meghan and her Grammy

Have you previously worked in the field of aging?

Meghan: “Between college and graduate school, I worked as a Research Coordinator for the Veterans Affairs system. I conducted research about a national survey called the Bereaved Family Survey, which asks family members of Veterans who died in the VA system about their end-of-life experiences. I also worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) when I was a high school student. This experience was particularly meaningful for me, as I got to experience the life of some of our front-line aging care workers.”

What advice do you have for those who are thinking about choosing a career or for those who are just beginning in the field of aging?

Meghan: “People underestimate the happiness and fulfillment that can be derived from a career in aging. So many are quick to say things like, “Goodness, THAT must be depressing!” or, “Really, you want to work with us OLD people?” But think about it: imagine getting the chance to work with people who have made incredible contributions to society, who have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and who (just like young people) are looking to get as much enjoyment and meaning out of their lives as possible. Therefore, my advice: try the aging field! You don’t have to commit to a career in aging–you don’t have to commit to being a geriatrician, or a funeral home director, or an executive for AARP. Instead, you should explore and “test out” careers in aging. Shadow health care providers who work predominantly with older adults, take an introductory course on aging, and read books that highlight the beauty of knowing this wonderful population. (I’d personally recommend 30 Lessons for Living by Karl Pillemer.)”

Would you recommend that others choose careers in aging? If so, why?

Meghan: “Of course, there are very pragmatic reasons to choose careers in aging, namely, job security (we are all going to be old!) However, I chose a career in aging because of how it made me feel. To me, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to help, understand and develop resources for individuals who so strongly deserve to enjoy and benefit from their lives. Older adults have so much experience and knowledge to share with us, and working in aging can help one become open to so many new ideas and ways to approach the world.

Remember, there are also unique ways to engage in ‘careers in aging.’ You don’t have to be a geriatrician or a researcher studying older adults to have an impact on our older population. So, be creative when applying your specific skill set and interests to a career working with older adults. The opportunities are endless!”

Read “Preparing for a Career in Aging Part 2” by Roger Wong.