FSU gets grant to address shortage of social workers for elderly

The number of new social workers who want to work with senior citizens is decreasing despite an aging population that needs their services.

The Florida State University College of Social Work is doing its part to recruit and train social workers to work with older adults, thanks to a three-year grant from the New York Academy of Medicine. Social Work will match the $73,248 grant, which will allow the college to develop a community partnership, establish a lecture series and offer stipends to graduate students in social work for geriatric internships.

"We have learned from past experience that if students are offered a value-added package in a specific area, they are more likely to choose that field of practice when they graduate," said Professor Linda Vinton, who is director of the project along with Professor James Hinterlong. "Agencies that need geriatric trained social workers will benefit, too, because they will be more likely to have interns and potential future employees who are specifically trained to work with older people."

Getting young people interested in working with older people is a challenge because there is a natural fear of aging, Vinton said. In addition, many young people have not grown up with their grandparents or other older adults so there is a lack of understanding about relationships with them.

"A lot of times young people think, ‘They are going to be sick and die. What can I do for them?’ They wonder what they can contribute since they don’t have that much life experience," Vinton said. "But older people typically really enjoy being around young people."

With the grant, Vinton and Hinterlong have established the Live Oak Geriatric Practicum Partnership Program. Beginning in January 2007, graduate students will do clinical rotations at social service and health agencies in the Big Bend area that have partnered with the college. In addition, students will have expert supervision by a gerontologist and will attend an interdisciplinary lecture series on aging and participate in group discussions.

Offering clinical rotations is a new concept for social work students, Vinton said. Based on the medical school model, the rotations will expose the students to different kinds of work within the aging field as opposed to doing a single internship in one setting.

They can gain experience in case management, well-elderly services, policy and planning, protective services, hospice care and long-term care.

Participating in the Live Oak Geriatric Practicum Partnership Program are the Area Agency on Aging for North Florida, Office of Public Guardian, Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, Tallahassee Memorial NeuroScience Center, Elder Care Services, Alzheimer Resource Center of Tallahassee, Alzheimer’s Project of Tallahassee, Westminster Oaks, Gerontology Associates, Tallahassee Senior Center and HealthSouth.

Funding for the New York Academy of Medicine initiative comes from the John A. Hartford Foundation, which has a goal of increasing the nation’s capacity to provide effective and affordable care to its rapidly increasing older population.

The National Institute on Aging has predicted that the United States will need 70,000 gerontology trained workers by the year 2010, according to Vinton, who said other experts have estimated that there are currently fewer than 30,000 social workers working full or part time with the elderly. Of those, only about 3,000 are professionally trained in gerontology.