What Can You Do With a Master's in Gerontology?

The field of gerontology studies the process of aging from mental, physical, and sociological perspectives. A multidisciplinary subject including the study of medicine, psychology, biology, sociology, and other scientific fields, gerontology is a growing area of specialization for professionals in various health and human services careers.

People ages 65 years and older are the fastest-growing part of the population in the United States. Therefore, to meet the growing demands for their aging-related healthcare needs, the number of gerontology professionals is expected to increase in the coming years. Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that healthcare occupations will grow by 16 percent from 2020 to 2030 (BLS 2021). This rate is double the national average for all professions (8 percent) in the same period.

There is a vast range of careers in gerontology that can be divided into two broad categories: social gerontology, which focuses on the social facets of aging, and biogerontology, which explores the biological aspects of aging.

Social gerontologists aim to support the needs of older adults by serving as intermediaries between their patients and their family, friends, and healthcare team. People working in social gerontology careers help older adults live more active and independent lifestyles and advocate for their medical and social needs. Social gerontologists can work in various healthcare environments, including medical clinics, senior living facilities, government offices, community centers, and centers for aging adults.

Biogerontologists typically have research-based careers in an area of specialized science. Their work is primarily centered around researching ways to slow down the process of aging by finding cures for diseases responsible for hastening the biological aging process, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and osteoporosis.

In addition, professionals working in biogerontological careers also study environmental and nutritional factors that can lead to an increase in diseases and illnesses that contribute to speeding up the process of aging, such as obesity, chronic diseases, substance abuse, and mental health disorders.

Gerontologists have several specialized career options in social, political, psychological, and medical fields. Most specialties have licensure and certification requirements which vary by state and employer. Gerontologists can seek careers in social and biological professions, and each area has unique licensure and certification requirements. Senior-level positions in gerontology typically require a master’s degree with certifications or a doctoral degree.

Read on to learn more about 11 careers you can do with a master’s degree in gerontology. Please note that all salary data is from June 2022.

How to Become a Geropsychologist

Geropsychologists are clinical psychologists and researchers who work in social gerontological or biogerontological settings. Practitioners of social geropsychology work as clinical psychologists with aging patients to assess and address mental and behavioral health needs in clinical therapy settings. Researchers in biogerontological settings conduct scientific and social research investigations to advance the body of research knowledge on aging.

A master’s degree is generally required for researchers, and a doctoral degree is the standard for licensed clinical psychologists. Educational and licensing requirements vary by state and specialty. Accredited educational programs can be found through the American Psychological Association (APA). Credentialing and licensure requirements vary for each state, and more information about individual state requirements can be found at the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).

According to Payscale.com, a website that aggregates self-reported salaries, the average salary per year for a licensed psychologist is $80,980 per year.

How to Become a Geriatric Physician Assistant

Geriatric physician assistants work with doctors and other healthcare providers to diagnose conditions, prescribe medication, record medical history, perform physical exams, explain laboratory results, and assist in medical procedures for older adult patients.

While most physician assistants work in clinics or hospitals, those with training in geriatrics may also work in nursing homes, support family members of aging parents, and give advice on end-of-life care options in various healthcare settings. In addition, geriatric physician assistants perform routine physical examinations and can prescribe medication. Finally, if a patient needs further attention from a medical doctor, a physician assistant will often refer the patient to a specialist physician.

Most physician assistants complete two-year graduate programs, including classroom and laboratory instruction and clinical rotations of 2,000 hours. Graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) before applying for state licensure.

According to Payscale.com (2022), a physician assistant’s average salary per year is $100,011 per year.

How to Become a Research Assistant – Gerontology

Focusing primarily on research, education, and service, research assistants in gerontology work in an academic laboratory or clinical settings. Their responsibilities include project management, data collection and analysis, data entry and cleaning, coding, maintaining databases, conducting interviews, coordinating groups, creating and analyzing quantitative data sets, writing reports, and creating presentations to disseminate research findings for public and professional use. Gerontological research typically includes research studies on caregiving, longevity, aging population health, and demographics.

Most research assistant positions prefer candidates with master’s degrees in gerontology or related social science fields. In addition, applicants with previous experience in grant writing, Institutional Review Board (IRB) application submission, and manuscript writing are desired.

According to Payscale.com (2022), the average salary for a research assistant is $54,995 per year.

How to Become a Geriatric Care Manager

Geriatric care managers are professionals with educational backgrounds and specialized experience in nursing and social work. In addition, geriatric care managers offer counseling to aging adults experiencing or anticipating a decrease in their ability to live independently.

Families of aging parents who live far away are increasingly opting to hire a geriatric care manager for a short or extended time, depending on the level and duration of care needed. To determine what kind of personalized care is needed, geriatric care managers conduct needs analysis surveys involving aging adults, their family members, and healthcare providers. Professionals in this career must have exceptional communication skills with patients, their families, and any patient’s medical support team members to coordinate and communicate their patient’s care needs.

Geriatric care managers can opt to be members of professional non-profit organizations such as the Aging Life Care Association or the National Association of Social Workers. In addition, they can be located on a national database run by the U.S. Administration on Aging called Eldercare Locator.

According to Payscale.com (2022), geriatric care managers make an average of $59,485 per year.

How to Become a Geriatric Social Worker

Specialists in geriatric social work advocate for senior citizens and their families by arranging social and health support services for older adults. Examples of such services include home healthcare, meal delivery service, and transportation support.

Geriatric social workers also help aging adults and their families make plans for future medical and assisted living arrangements. Geriatric social workers work in various locations, including hospitals, human service agencies, private practices, government offices, and community development centers.

The geriatric specialty for social workers requires a one- or two-year master’s degree program. In addition, students complete a supervised practicum or internship to gain hands-on experience to prepare them fully for the professional demands of this work. The Council on Social Work Education has accredited over 200 master’s degree programs, and licensure and certification requirements vary by state.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS May 2021), the 715,600 social workers in the U.S. earned a median annual salary of $51,760 per year.

How to Become an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Adult-gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs) are registered nurses with advanced practitioner specialization degrees in treating older adults. Nurse practitioners can practice independently in private practice or other healthcare facilities, depending on their state of practice. In regions with full practice authority, they can independently prescribe medication and refer patients to other medical specialists.

After becoming a registered nurse, some people choose to work in nursing for a few years before applying to an accredited master’s or doctoral program. Most AGNP programs offer two specialization tracks: acute care and primary care. Alternatively, students can decide which area of specialization to focus on when selecting their practicum location.

After completing a degree program, AGNPs can choose which credentialing they want to pursue through organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) which offers two certifications for AGNPs: the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGPCNP-BC) and the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC).

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS 2021), the 271,900 nurse practitioners in the U.S. earned a median annual salary of $117,670 per year.

How to Become an Adjunct Gerontology Instructor

Adjunct instructors in gerontology teach undergraduate curriculum courses such as introduction to gerontology, social gerontology, research methodology in aging, retirement planning, and social gerontology. While some instructors may choose to pursue research, the majority of the professional responsibilities in this profession are devoted to teaching and program and course development. Instructors in this field can teach both face-to-face, online, or in hybrid course environments, and most of their students are bound for entry-level positions in gerontology.

Instructors should have master’s degrees in gerontology and two or more years of paid post-master’s work in a clinical setting to qualify for this position. In addition, some instructors choose to be members of a professional organization that supports instructors in their field, such as the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE).

According to Payscale.com (2022), a typical salary for an adjunct instructor is $32,424 per year.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist – Gerontology

Clinical Nurse Specialists are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Having the same autonomous qualifications as a nurse practitioner and the ability to provide specialized direct patient care, clinical nurse specialists also hold management roles by advising other nurses, conducting research, and advocating for policy change. Clinical nurse specialists work in various healthcare facilities, including public health clinics, assisted living homes, hospitals, community centers, and private health clinics.

Registered nurses (RNs) must earn a master’s degree in nursing and have one or two years of work experience. To earn certification, nurses must graduate from an accredited nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Individual states require additional licensure and clinical nurse specialists also need to complete other state licensure requirements to acquire their specialty certifications.

Payscale.com (2022) reports that the average salary for a clinical nurse specialist is $93,927 per year.

How to Become a Gerontology Research Coordinator

Research coordinators in the field of gerontology coordinate research and evaluate studies for gerontological research groups. In addition, professionals in this field coordinate the design and implementation of projects; conduct data collection; participate as investigators in gerontological research projects; submit IRB applications; and collect and manage data sets on behalf of researchers, stakeholders, media outlets, and grant writers.

A master’s degree in social work or public health is required for most positions. Additional desired qualifications include previous experience in public health focused on aging adulthood, project coordination, and the presentation (or publication) of research in the field of gerontology.

According to Payscale.com, the typical salary for clinical research coordinator positions is $50,014 per year.

How to Become a Psychometrician

Psychometricians are professionals who create, administer, and review psychological and neurological examination results. They work with various patients, including professional athletes, patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries, and patients showing signs of memory loss. In addition, aging adults with neurological disorders and pre-existing conditions of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may be required to complete these psychological tests as medical metric benchmarks to inform their current and future healthcare needs.

Professionals in this field can seek certification through the Board of Certified Psychometrists and be eligible for higher salaries. A master’s degree is typically required for this position.

According to Payscale.com (2022), the average salary for a psychometrist is $81,730 per year.

How to Become an Adult-Gerontology Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists help people of all ages live full and productive lives from a holistic perspective. In the case of older adults, occupational therapists help patients recover from injuries or provide support for physical and cognitive decline. Through rehabilitating patients with exercises, seniors can complete basic tasks with independence, gain confidence, and remain socially connected with their communities.

To become an occupational therapist, one must earn a master’s or a doctoral degree from an occupational therapy (OT) program accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). This organization offers optional board certification in gerontology. All states require occupational therapists to pass an exam offered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) to work legally.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) shows that occupational therapists earn median annual salaries of $86,280 per year. Payscale.com (2022) shows that the average yearly salary for senior occupational therapists is $82.227 per year.

Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond, MEd

As a contributor on MHAOnline, Rachel Drummond has brought her expertise in education and mindfulness to the healthcare management field since 2019. She writes about integrating innovation into healthcare administration, emphasizing the importance of mental and physical well-being for effective leadership and decision-making in the fast-paced world of healthcare management.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.