Career Watch: Aging-Related Careers
Careers related to aging are diverse, spanning health care, research, policy, advocacy, philanthropy, and direct service, but all center around the goal of developing big-picture solutions to serve the needs of an aging population. With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, employees in the aging-related career sector perform the increasingly important role of understanding how to manage the health and wellness of this population, whose needs and demands are growing.
Aging-related research touches on ways to better organize the health care system and address the needs of older adults, while advocates and policymakers translate this research into policy. Direct-service employees engage with older adults in health care settings, helping them navigate the care system, or they serve in a management capacity to oversee the institutions and services that support older people. With aging-related careers, a multidisciplinary approach is essential not only to understand the myriad issues affecting older populations—such as cognitive impairment and obstacles to access—but also to use this information to make improvements at both the individual and system level.
Job opportunities in this field are varied and include desk or field positions in health care systems, community-based organizations, universities, nonprofits, labs, think tanks, and philanthropic organizations. While there is an incredible need for more frontline service professionals and the managers who oversee them, there is also a vast need for university-level faculty who can teach about how the public health system can better support older adults. Also needed are experts who can work collaboratively to create a more person-centered system offering care for older adults in their homes and communities, where they prefer to reside. The growing older population will need greater financial resources to meet rising health care costs, so there will be a critical need for professionals who can find innovative ways to address this issue.
All disciplinary paths can lead to a career in aging. Although skill sets will vary according to the specific job, the most important skill for working in any aging-related career is the ability to understand the needs of older populations. Other useful skills include the ability to conduct research and perform data and/or policy analysis, grant-writing expertise, an understanding of government institutions and the organization of the health care system, and strong writing and presentation skills. Technological expertise is also a plus, since older adults are often less mobile and may therefore be more reliant on technology-based solutions to their health care needs.
“In my tenure at The SCAN Foundation, I’ve been able to see a lot of success in our work to better support older adults, but we’re still battling this enormous system that operates in silos. With a variety of job opportunities related to aging out there, and the fact that our older population is living longer and growing, now is the time to consider a career in aging.”
—Lisa Shugarman, PhD ’00, Director of Policy, The SCAN Foundation, Long Beach, California
To Learn More:
- The SCAN Foundation
- Gerontological Society of America
- American Society on Aging
- American Public Health Association, Aging & Public Health
SPH student Nora White interviewed Lisa Shugarman for this article.