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 a variety of health and human services careers.

People age 65 years and older are the fastest growing part of the population in the United States and the number of gerontology professionals is expected to increase to meet the growing demands for their aging-related healthcare needs. There is a vast range of careers in the field of gerontology and they 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 on behalf of their medical and social needs. Social gerontologists can work in a variety of 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 largely 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. Professionals working in biogerontological careers also study environmental and nutrition factors that can lead to an increase of diseases and illnesses that contribute to speeding up the process of aging such as obesity, chronic illnesses, 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 doctoral degree.

Read on to learn more about ten careers in gerontology for master’s degree holders. Please note that all Payscale salary data is from April 2019.

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, the average salary per year for a licensed psychologist is $74,941 per year.

How to Become a Geriatric Physician Assistant

Geriatric physician assistants are healthcare professionals who 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 a variety of healthcare settings. Geriatric physician assistants perform routine physical examinations and can prescribe medication. If a patient needs further attention by 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 or more. Graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) before they can apply for state licensure.

According to Payscale.com, the average salary per year for a physician assistant is $93,394 per year.

How to Become a Research Assistant – Gerontology

Focusing primarily on research, education, and service, research assistants in gerontology work in academic laboratory or clinical settings. Their responsibilities can 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. Areas of gerontological research typically include research studies in caregiving, longevity, aging population health, and demographics.

Candidates with master’s degrees in gerontology or related social science fields are preferred in most research assistant positions. Applicants with previous experience in grant writing, Institutional Review Board (IRB) application submission, and manuscript writing are desired.

According to Payscale.com, the average salary for a research assistant is $50,564 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. Geriatric care managers offer counseling to aging adults who are 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 amount of time depending on the level and duration of care needed. In order to determine what kind of personalized care is needed, geriatric care managers conduct needs analysis surveys involving aging adults, their family members, and involved healthcare providers. Professionals in this career must have exceptional communication skills with patients, their families, and any members of the patient’s medical support team in order to coordinate and communicate their patient’s care needs.

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

According to Payscale.com, geriatric care managers make an average of $49,535 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 a variety of 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 which 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), the 682,100 social workers in the U.S. earned a median annual salary of $47,980 in 2017.

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 in other healthcare facilities, depending on their state of practice. In regions with full practice authority, they are able to independently prescribe medication and refer patients to other medical specialists as needed.

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 they select 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) and 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), the 203,800 nurse practitioners in the U.S. earned a median annual salary of $110,930 in 2017.

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 the field of gerontology.

To qualify for this position, instructors should have master’s degrees in gerontology and two or more years of paid post-master’s work in a clinical setting. 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, a typical salary for an adjunct instructor is $30,211 per year.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist – Gerontology

Clinical Nurse Specialists are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Having the same autonomous qualifications 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 a variety of 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 different licensure and clinical nurse specialists also need to complete additional state licensure requirements to acquire their specialty certifications.

Payscale.com reports that the average salary for a clinical nurse specialist is $87,229 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. 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 a field of public health focused on aging adulthood, project coordination, and the presentation (or publication) of research in the field of gerontology.

According to Payscale.com, typical salary for clinical research coordinator positions is $48,298 per year.

How to Become a Psychometrician

Psychometricians are professionals who create, administer, and review psychological and neurological examination results. They work with a variety of patients including professional athletes, patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries, and patients showing signs of memory loss. 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, and the average salary for a psychometrist is $82,190 per year.