Aging and Gerontology Social Work in North Carolina

Written by Jack Levinson

aging client on tablet with social worker

As we approach old age, we all begin to face significant challenges in our day to day lives. Chores that may have once seemed quick and easy can become daunting challenges, and managing the many moving parts that are needed to maintain oneself – physically, mentally, domestically, financially – can be incredibly burdensome, or in some cases even impossible, without support.

Anyone who has cared for an aging relative or loved one knows how much assistance is required to help elderly people get the most from their lives. Even those who maintain strong physical and mental faculties into old age still frequently need to rely upon others to keep everything running smoothly. Though many turn to their families for this support, many more do not have this option, and thus turn to outside care options.

From issues related to mobility and physical activity to cognitive and mental health needs, aged care social workers make it their life work to improve the experiences of elderly people.

If you’re passionate about making a tangible difference in the lives of others, gerontology (the study of aging adults) is an excellent arena to focus your social work practice. This multifaceted field can incorporate a variety of skills and abilities, meaning it can be a good fit for social workers with many different talents and dispositions.

This article will give an overview of gerontological social work, from an overall job description to the salary range you can anticipate as an elder care social worker in North Carolina. To learn more about what you can expect as a gerontology social worker, read on.

Gerontology Social Work: An Overview

Social workers in the field of gerontology perform services that make it possible for elderly people to live active, happy, healthy lives. They are trained to accommodate the unique needs of aging people, whether in elder care facilities or at-home contexts.

Some of the top responsibilities of gerontology social workers can include the following:

Assessment and Care Planning

Determining the exact needs of an elderly individual requires a great deal of information and insight. Aged care social workers are equipped to evaluate elderly individuals on a variety of factors, including:

Using information from these assessments, social workers design the individualized care plans that will support and uplift each person to meet their exact needs.

Coordination of Services

The healthcare needs of aging people are complex, and can be quite taxing (if not all-out impossible) for elderly people to navigate on their own. One responsibility many gerontological social workers take on is service coordination, collaborating with other professionals in health care and community organizations to ensure that elderly individuals receive the exact care they need.

Counseling and Mental Health Support

Older people have many mental health needs. From cognitive issues such as memory loss and functioning limitations to emotional issues related to grief, isolation, and health concerns, there are many reasons why elderly people may benefit from mental health services. Those who know they intend to perform clinical duties such as therapy can specialize in elder care services to focus their career efforts and serve as a vital resource for aging individuals.

filling out paperwork together


Crisis Intervention

In times when elderly people need emergency support, social work professionals frequently act as first responders. This can be in instances of declining health, family emergencies, and other concerns that emerge unexpectedly. This can be one of the most invaluable roles a gerontology social worker can take, as you will be able to restore a sense of security and care during peoples’ hardest moments.


Both for individuals and the aging population at large, social workers can act as instrumental advocates, ensuring that older adults are provided with the resources and services they need to stay secure, healthy, and stable. There are numerous arenas that elder care advocacy focuses on, from health care services to housing and social programs that improve the lives of aging people. One can be involved in advocacy on a micro level, taking responsibility for individuals under your care, or on a macro level, engaging in key policy issues that affect elderly people.

Education and Outreach

Community education and outreach programs can be crucial to educating elderly individuals about their own needs and how they can best take care of themselves. This extends far beyond the arena of personal health, into issues such as financial literacy, navigating public services online, and more.

Research and Policy Development

Also on the macro side of the gerontology arena, some social workers are involved in research and policy development designed to evaluate and improve social services for seniors. Many who are involved in this work have previously worked with individuals – whether at nursing homes or other elder care facilities or in in-home care situations.

As you can see, there are many different ways social workers can put their efforts toward improving the day to day experiences of seniors. As a gerontology social worker, you can put yourself on a career path that emphasizes the services or actions you most wish to perform for others.

Clinical Gerontological Social Work Practice

If you know you would like to specialize in therapy or counseling services, you will need to become a clinical gerontology social worker. In the field of social work overall, those who are licensed for clinical practice are the only people qualified to perform these advanced mental health services.

Clinical gerontology social work incorporates the same treatment methods and approaches as general clinical social work, but with a deep understanding of the needs of aging populations.

Clinical gerontology social workers are tremendously well-equipped to help elderly people confront mental health challenges related to aging, from issues related to personal health to grief and end-of-life care.

In addition to supporting elderly individuals, clinical gerontological social workers can provide supportive services to the families of aging people as well as to caregivers themselves, who need their own support after giving so much of themselves to others. This is a thoughtful way of investing in supportive services for elderly people, ensuring that caregivers have the resources they need to continue helping others.

In order to become a clinical gerontology social worker, you must hold Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) standing. It is not possible in the state of North Carolina to perform any clinical social work responsibilities without this license. For more information on obtaining your license, read the section below.

How to Become a Gerontology Social Worker

Becoming a social worker in the field of gerontology requires the same initial steps as any other degree in social work. In fact, one need not know that they would like to specialize in gerontology at the outset of their educational journey in social work. Many decide to focus on gerontology once they are already well into their Master of Social Work (MSW) programs, gaining exposure to the field through their required internship hours.

Degree Requirements

In the state of North Carolina (and the rest of the country), it is not possible to hold the full responsibilities of a social worker without a Master of Social Work degree. MSW degree programs are typically two years in length (when completed full-time) and provide an extensive education on the field of social work. They also include mandatory field work or internship hours, which give future social workers their first on-the-ground experiences of their future job.

In order to qualify for an MSW, one must already hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Those who don’t yet hold a bachelor’s degree can receive a Bachelor of Social Work degree (BSW). This is not required in order to qualify for an MSW program, but comes with a perk designed to expedite one’s professional journey: those who hold BSW degrees are eligible for Advanced Standing MSW programs, which skip the first year of schooling, as it overlaps with the BSW curriculum. This reduces the duration of an MSW program to a single year – a boon for anyone hoping to jumpstart their social work career as quickly as possible.

License Requirements

After obtaining your MSW, it is imperative to pursue the appropriate license for your intended professional track.

One cannot hold a social worker position in gerontology (or any other sector of social work) without proper licensing.

In North Carolina, licensing is overseen by the North Carolina Social Work Certification and License Board. They administer the qualifying exams that MSW graduates must pass in order to receive their licensing.

There are two primary forms of social work license for those with MSWs:

helping elderly with groceries

Gerontology Social Worker Salary

It’s a popular joke in the social work community that no one enters the field for the money. But social workers in North Carolina have the opportunity to stretch their salaries further than is possible in many other states. North Carolina is frequently touted as one of the best places in the U.S. to live comfortably on a middle-class income, making it an excellent choice for social workers weighing options of where to live.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide isolated statistics on incomes of gerontology social workers, their reported data for Healthcare Social Workers in North Carolina can serve as a guideline for these roles. According to the BLS, healthcare social workers in North Carolina earn a mean annual salary of $63,110 per year, which is very close to the national average of $62,760. However, there is reason North Carolina social workers can hope to earn higher salaries than that: the BLS reports that those earning in the 90th percentile of healthcare social workers nationwide can earn $87,830 or more.

The lesson here is this: by developing an area of specialty and committing yourself to the field in the long term, you can work your way up to becoming a top-paid social work employee, making it possible to continue supporting others without compromising your lifestyle.


Where are gerontology social workers employed?

Gerontology social workers can work for a variety of employers, including elder care facilities, nursing homes, and hospice and end-of-life care clinics. They can also perform at-home services for elderly people who are not in residential facilities.

Are gerontology social workers nurses?

No, gerontology social workers are not nurses. While both professions are involved in the healthcare field and often work collaboratively to provide comprehensive care, they have distinct roles, responsibilities, and educational backgrounds. Gerontology social workers specialize in addressing the social and emotional needs of aging people, from mental health struggles to issues related to maintaining housing and financial security. Nurses, meanwhile, deal with medical needs, including medical procedures and prescribing medication. These responsibilities require altogether different training and education from a social worker’s role.

What level of education is needed to become a gerontology social worker?

In order to become an aged care social worker, one must hold a Master of Social Work degree. This is in keeping with the expectations for any social work role, including those in other branches of the field of social work.

Do I need a social work license in order to work in the field of gerontology?

Generally speaking, yes. While there may be some low-level positions available in nursing homes or elder care facilities, you will quickly reach the ceiling on opportunities if you do not obtain your MSW and the relevant license needed to perform your intended social work role.

I’m not sure which branch of social work is the best place to focus my efforts. Do I need to decide before going to graduate school?

No. Though some students may enter their MSW program with a strong sense of which communities they’d like to work with or causes they’d like to help, many others enter without knowing which arena is best for them. If you fall into the latter category, don’t worry: your MSW program will be an excellent place to learn more about the social work profession, allowing you to make an educated decision about the best place for your skills and abilities.