How Do You Become a Gerontologist?

One can become a gerontologist by choosing to study some aspect of gerontology at university or gradually move into a career in gerontology by focusing on addressing issues of aging within a wide range of professions. Because gerontology is an interdisciplinary field, defined as the comprehensive study of all aspects of aging and issues affecting the aged, there are gerontologists in everything from social policy to medicine and architecture to marketing. Especially as the median age in developed nations rises and people live longer, the study of aging becomes important in everything from economics to urban planning.

Geriatric Physician

One of the best known types of gerontologist is the geriatric physician, a type of doctor who specializes in providing health care for the elderly. To become a board-certified geriatric physician, one must first complete medical school followed by a residency in internal medicine, usually pursuing a geriatric track if it is available. Next, one obtains a fellowship in geriatric medicine and then goes through the process of obtaining board certification.

Geriatric Nurse, Psychiatrist, or Caregiver

Also focused on the health needs of the elderly are geriatric nurses and other caregivers, including social workers and physical therapists, who specialize in geriatric care. While enrolled in bachelor's or master's programs in these fields, one can specialize in working with the elderly. Another growing field is geriatric psychiatry and related areas of counseling and psychology which addresses many of the mental issues associated with aging, including bereavement counseling and the psychological impact of chronic health conditions, according to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.

Academic Study of Aging

Many academic disciplines such as economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science study aging, often in terms of how it functions within social and cultural contexts. Typically, becoming a researcher in these areas of gerontology requires obtaining a doctoral degree within a specific department but doing work across disciplinary boundaries with other scholars interested in issues of aging. Such social scientists might study issues such as how the elderly are treated in different cultures, poverty among the elderly, or how voting patterns change as people age.

Gerontology in Business

As populations age, businesses become increasingly interested in gerontology. For example, it is possible to become certified as a Seniors Real Estate Specialist ® or become a certified American Council on Exercise Senior Fitness Specialist. Architects or contractors can specialize in building homes that are accessible and enable seniors to age in place. Increasingly, designers of such things as household goods, kitchen utensils, or electronic devices include gerontologists specializing in how to make such devices senior-friendly. With seniors living longer and having higher disposable incomes than previously, marketing to seniors is another growing business opportunity. Developing a gerontological focus within a business field usually means obtaining a general degree or background in the field and then seeking additional certification in working with seniors.

Related Resource: 30 Great Scholarships for Social Work Students

Diverse Careers in Gerontology

Careers in gerontology are not limited to geriatric medicine but instead range from business to academic study and from care giving to marketing. Within almost any field, one can focus on studying or addressing the needs of seniors. There are as many ways to become a gerontologist as there are different field in which one can specialize in understanding or catering to the needs and situations of seniors.