Become a Geriatric Social Worker

By Janice Monti
Last Updated: September 25, 2020

As baby boomers grow older, the social work profession has focused more attention on elderly individuals as they adjust to the aging process. This overview of the geriatric social work speciality explores the skills needed to assist older clients and their caretakers, along with training requirements and career possibilities.

While most states expect clinical social workers to hold an MSW and a license, ample opportunities exist for geriatric social workers with a BSW or related degree. The U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides aggregate data for all social workers, combining salary information for undergraduate and MSW degree-holders. Although compensation varies by location and employer, social workers overall receive a median annual salary of $50,470.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the role of a social worker for the elderly?

    Geriatric social workers provide support for elderly clients, their families, and caretakers, assessing their needs and advocating on their behalf. In addition to helping aging clients deal with physical and emotional issues, the social workers for the elderly must remain current on social policy and legislation.

  • Where do geriatric social workers work?

    Geriatric social workers can pursue career opportunities in any setting offering services for senior citizens. These social workers provide counseling, coordinate care with other professionals, and locate resources, working in locations as varied as in-patient and out-patient medical clinics, nursing homes and residential care facilities, community centers, and hospices.

  • How long does it take to become a geriatric social worker?

    Students may enter the field after earning a BSW or other undergraduate degree in gerontology or a related field. A bachelor's degree generally requires four-years of full-time study. Clinical roles and advanced practice specializations require an MSW, which may take two more years to complete, including one or more clinical field experiences.

  • Is a geriatric social worker a mandated reporter?

    All states have passed legislation requiring mandatory reporting of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Most states include social workers among the professionals delineated as mandated reporters. In states where social workers do not hold mandated reporter status, other systems exist for them to report suspicions of elder abuse to Adult Protective Services departments.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Geriatric Social Worker

Long-term care facilities offer geriatric social workers rewarding yet challenging careers. These social workers provide residents, family members, and other caretakers with an array of services and support as they preserve and enhance residents' physical and social well-being.

Duties and responsibilities must adhere to government regulations and guidelines established by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Gerontology social workers assess residents' medical, social, and emotional needs, help them cope with physical illness and mental and cognitive conditions, and locate resources and benefits to maintain and improve their quality of life. Geriatric social work jobs require a wide spectrum of skills, from conflict resolution, grief counseling, and cultural competency to knowledge of medical conditions, healthcare policies, and Medicare, Medicaid, and other insurance practices.

Long-term care and nursing home social work jobs can sometimes result in stress and burnout. These professionals must learn to self-care, recognizing signs of chronic fatigue, and feelings of helplessness, anger, or detachment.

Top Paying Industries for Geriatric Social Workers

The BLS ranks ambulatory medical services that exclude hospitals and in-patient care as the top paying industry for geriatric social workers. Classified as "other ambulatory healthcare services," these positions in care management, case management, medical screening, and home healthcare, pay an average annual salary of $83,050. Federal government offices, insurance agencies, and general medical and surgical hospitals also rank among the top paying industries for geriatric social workers, offering annual mean wages from $72,000-$76,000.

Top Paying States for Geriatric Social Workers

Career and salary prospects for geriatric social worker jobs vary considerably by state. Hawaii ranks as the nation's top paying state, offering social workers an average annual salary of $81,520. Social workers find the next highest pay rates in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, all of which offer average yearly earnings of approximately $74,000.

The greatest employment opportunities for gerontology social workers can be found in the country's most heavily populated states. California boasts the highest employment level, with over 12,000 social workers boasting an average annual salary of $71,020. New York, Florida, and Ohio also employ high numbers of these professionals, offering $53,000-$67,000 a year.

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Geriatric Social Workers

The top paying metropolitan areas include urban centers in California, Alaska, and Georgia. The region comprising San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara in California ranks as the top paying metro area, offering a mean annual salary of $97,680. Anchorage, Alaska, holds second place, with annual earnings of $84,970, followed by Savannah, Georgia, offering an average income of $84,090.

Metropolitan regions on the east and west coasts provide the most job opportunities. Geriatric social workers can find the highest employment level in the New York-Newark-Jersey City region, with a mean annual income of $70,130. The second highest level of employment, the Los Angeles-Long Beach- Anaheim region in California pays an annual salary of $71,090. California's Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward areas also offer many career opportunities.

Salary and Job Growth for Geriatric Social Workers

Jobs for social workers in all specialty areas are projected to grow by 13% from 2019-29. The BLS includes geriatric social work jobs, nursing home social work jobs, and other related positions under the healthcare social worker designation. Healthcare social workers earn a relatively high annual salary of $59,300, thanks to a growing demand for skilled professionals to serve aging populations as they and their families adjust to changing medical, emotional, and lifestyle needs.

Average yearly earnings vary by education level, type of employer, and experience. Salaries range from $35,000 for the lowest-paid 10% to $86,130 for the top earners. While geriatric social workers may enter the field with a BSW or related bachelor's degree, the most lucrative jobs require an MSW and clinical licensure.

How to Become a Geriatric Social Worker

While geriatric social work offers fulfilling careers for graduates of BSW and MSW programs, BSW-holders may encounter limited employment opportunities with fewer responsibilities and lower pay. A CSWE survey reports that only half of the responding BSWs found employment after earning their bachelor's degree, with just 46% of this group finding jobs in the social work field.

After completing an MSW, graduates seeking state licenses must take the appropriate national exam and complete a field placement. Because an MSW opens up broader career prospects and higher levels of compensation, over 95% of BSW graduates responding to the CSWE survey indicate that they have currently begun or plan to enter an MSW program.

While some states offer bachelor's-level licenses, most jurisdictions require an MSW for licensure in advanced and clinical roles. Many gerontology social workers seeking career advancement acquire voluntary certifications through the NASW.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

While licensure qualifications vary by state, most licensing boards require an MSW. The NASW offers voluntary certifications for both BSWs and MSWs. BSW graduates may qualify for the social worker in gerontology (SW-G) certification. SW-G candidates must document 4,500 supervised hours working with the elderly and 20 continuing education hours or an equivalent gerontology certificate.

The NASW offers master's-level certifications in Advanced Social Work in Gerontology (ASW-G) and Clinical Social Work in Gerontology (CSW-G). MSW-holders with state licensure may obtain the ASW-G certification. Eligible candidates must complete 20 continuing hours and document 1,000 hours of experience working with older populations.

In contrast to the ASW-G, the CSW-G has a clinical focus. This certification requires an MSW, a clinical license, and 3,000 hours of paid supervised experience in an organization providing older adults with mental health assessment and treatment. CSW-G candidates must complete 30 continuing education credits on bio-psychosocial issues, interventions, or the dynamics of working with the aging.