MSW Field of Practice in Aging/Gerontology

One of the master trends of the 21st century is population aging.  In the US and in most other countries, the percentage of the population comprised of older adults is growing…and in countries with developing economies, this growth is rapid!  

Population aging is a public health achievement.  As with any large demographic change, societies will need to adjust.  All aspects of society are being affected by population aging. 

We need more social workers prepared to help society build on the strengths of an aging population.  Social workers who understand the damaging effects of ageism and the power of relationships, regardless of age are needed.  We need gerontological social workers who can work across system levels to help individuals, families, organizations, and countries adjust to older adulthood.  And we need social workers who are not bound by the outdated and inaccurate assumptions about aging and older adulthood.  We need social workers to help broaden expectations about what the experience of older adulthood can be, so that we design systems and societies that support the process of aging from birth until death.   A good childhood is a good start toward a good older adulthood.

Social workers are needed to work with older adults in employment, health, religious, recreational, and other settings.           

The University of Iowa is one of the best places in the Midwest to study aging and about older adulthood because throughout campus, we have many faculty committed to improving the well-being of older adults through clinical practice, program development, policy practice, and the humanities. 

Our School of Social Work boasts three nationally-recognized gerontologists as faculty members:  Dr. May Guo, Dr. Sara Sanders, and Dr. Mercedes Bern-Klug.  

The School of Social Work participates in the interdisciplinary Aging & Longevity Studies Program, through the College of Liberal Arts. Graduate social work students who would like to specialize in working with older adults

and/or older adult policy/practice/research issues may complete a certificate or the Aging Studies/Gerontology Field of Practice.

The School of Social Work’s “Aging Studies/Gerontology Field of Practice” requires 15 s.h. of courses whose numbers start with “153 (ASP).” All social work courses in aging are cross-listed with the Aging & Longevity Studies Program. For current information on the UI Aging & Longevity Studies Program, please refer to:

School of Social Work faculty member Mercedes Bern-Klug is the Director of the Aging & Longevity Studies program for the university and is available to advise students in social work as well as other fields.


Many of the courses listed below are also listed in the End of Life Specialization – and can count toward both.

Courses in the School of Social Work (some are cross-listed in Aging & Longevity Studies)

SSW: 5200 Grief Work with Individuals and Families

SSW:3135/ASP:3135  Global Aging (on-line)

SSW:3786 /ASP:3786 Death &Dying: Issues Across the Life Span

SSW:3501/ASP:3501 Introduction to Nursing Homes

SSW:5219/ASP:5219 Aging and the Family

SSW:7292 Advanced Practicum in Family Centered Practice (partial credit, 6 s.h.)  or SSW:7295 Advanced Practicum in Integrated Practice (partial credit --6 s.h.)

Also, the following courses in Aging & Longevity Studies that can be applied:

ASP:4190 Aging Studies Internship

ASP:3160 Biology of Aging (on-line)

ASP:3150 Psychology of Aging (on-line some semesters)

Also, public policy and aging, anthropology and aging, and other classes. Please check the UI  website for current course listings under “ASP.”   

Information about possible practicum opportunities are available from the Practicum Administrators in Iowa City, Des Moines, Sioux City or Quad Cities.