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Factors influencing Master of Social Work students to choose to work with older adults




Bishop, Pamela Suzanne, author
Makela, Carole, advisor
Kuk, Linda, committee member
Quijano, Louise, committee member
Tungate, Susan, committee member

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We are experiencing a population explosion of individuals ages 65 and older. Currently, more than 12% of the United States’ population is 65 or older, and as a benchmark, over three-quarters of the current population will reach 65 (in 1870 3% of the population reached 65). In the next 50 years, the older population will double to 80 million or 20% of the total population. It is clear that people are living longer than ever before; many of those in this age group are part of the ‘baby boom’ born in the years 1946 to 1963. Further, over the past century, there has been a demographic shift and by the year 2030, there will be more people over 65 than younger than 18 in the United States. These facts and numbers may lead to a shortage in the number of social workers and other care professionals to provide support and services to this population. Schools of social work nationwide are not graduating the number of social workers anticipated to meet the needs and the demands of the growing adult population. Thus, the purpose of this study was to determine what factors are influential for Master of Social Work (MSW) students to choose gerontology and/or work with older adults. Through the use of four focus groups, my goal was to ascertain the following: what influences and factors shape the decisions of MSW students to work with older adults, how “attitudes on aging,” “life experiences,” and education influence their professional focus, and what advice would they give to professionals and educators to encourage (or promote) an interest in aging among their peers. Findings from the study showed that the lack of information, little emphasis on skill development, and practice experience in the curriculum for the social work students prevent many from feeling confident or knowledgeable about this area of practice. The focus group participants shared many insights and suggestions as to how educators and social workers can respond to the demand for more professionals in the field of gerontology. By educating and informing social work students about the value and growing opportunities, more graduating MSW students may consider this a viable career option. With an emerging awareness of the need for more social work professionals in all types of agencies and settings that serve older adults, social work professionals must be knowledgeable about and learn what they can do to contribute to the needs of an aging society and develop the resources and settings for making this contribution happen.


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