News Details

Preparing Future Gerontology Social Workers

PAC student with an older adult

Authored by: Lisa Dugan

Photography by: Candace diCarlo

Faculty & Research


As the baby boom generation ages, the demand for social workers knowledgeable about the needs of older adults and skilled in the development and delivery of services has dramatically increased.

According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor, the US will need approximately 70,000 geriatric social workers by 2020, yet less than 10% of that projected number is now available. The Penn Aging Concentration (PAC) was established to help bridge that gap. The program offers innovative clinical and policy level academic programs dedicated to improving the quality of life of older people.

PAC provides enhanced learning opportunities for graduate students in the advanced year of the MSW program including leadership development, rotational field seminars, geriatric grand rounds and standardized patient clinical training. It also offers assistance with career planning and internships that provide opportunities to develop skills working with individuals and families, as well as with systems that serve older persons.

The program’s clinical and macro students obtain intensive hands-on experience in a variety of settings including hospice care, geriatric mental health facilities, Alzheimer’s units, home visiting programs and advocacy organizations. Students receive manualized evidenced-based practice training in depression care, and crisis intervention, financial counseling, medication treatment adherence, dementia care, palliative care and advanced directives. Policy-level issues affecting older adults such as elder abuse, social benefits, and aging-friendly communities are also examined.

Last year, PAC received funding from MetLife, which provided a $6,000 scholarship to each of the 10 students enrolled in the program. The Foundation recently approved another terminal year of funding in support of the program. According to PAC program director Zvi Gellis, PhD, this grant support demonstrates that “MetLife recognizes the importance of preparing social workers to meet the needs of a growing older adult population who face a unique set of issues and challenges.”

Gellis notes that expanded professional opportunities have sparked student interest in the program, which will train the third cohort of 12 students in the coming year. “Until very recently, only a few students expressed an interest in aging as a specialty. Today students are excited to be part of a growing dynamic field where they can make a meaningful difference.”