Many people who work toward a gerontology degree opt to work in a medical establishment or with a social services organization. These career paths are undoubtedly commendable; even so, it is important to bear in mind that this degree can open doors to a wide variety of career paths. Following is an overview of one specific path – see how studying gerontology can enable a graduate with prior legal experience or a law degree to handle specialized work in the legal sector.
As Professor M.B. Kapp accurately notes in “Legal Aspects of Elder Care,” many educated and experienced social workers who work with senior citizens do not have the training needed to properly manage the legal aspects of geriatric care. Some of the many legal issues that may arise when caring for senior citizens include:
- Knowing when a senior citizen can or cannot give consent to certain types of care.
- Handling situations in which a conflict of interest exists between a senior citizen and the person or entity providing care.
- Assessing whether accusations of abuse or negligence are factual.
Legal consultants, unlike lawyers, do not take cases to court. They also do not handle long-term assignments. Instead, they provide legal advice and assistance when needed. A legal consultant may work for a law firm or as an independent contractor and provide social service workers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, doctors and NGOs with valuable assistance that can enable those caring for the elderly to ensure their actions do not contravene state or federal laws.
Training in gerontology can help you handle criminal cases related to the Elder Justice Act. It is also beneficial for elder law lawyers, civil lawyers, Social Security disability lawyers and public interest lawyers. While not all of your cases will involve senior citizens, lawyers in the aforementioned fields usually have more elderly clients than those handling other legal specialties. Gerontology will not only help you be aware of legal implications in your care of senior clients, but also provide the training needed to work with senior citizens who have disabilities and may be harder to communicate with than the average client.
As a lawyer with training in gerontology, you may work in a private law firm, for an educational institution, at an NGO, or even for the state or federal government. You may take cases to court or handle settlements, create policy papers, offer training workshops or keep track of legal developments in your field of specialty.
As the name implies, a geropsychologist is a psychologist that focuses on senior citizens. A number of geropsychologists work for lawyers, helping them determine a client or witness’s legal capacity to testify in court. A geropsychologist may also be called on to testify if a conflict of opinion exists regarding a senior citizen’s mental capacities. Alternatively, a geropsychologist may work for the government, helping draw up health promotion programs that benefit senior citizens.
As the Nursing School Hub accurately notes, nurse paralegals are tasked with handling medically related legal work. Such paralegals may work for a hospital, insurance company, law firm, government agency or even a medical journal publishing company. As a nurse paralegal, you will be tasked with ensuring that your employer stays within legal boundaries and provides equal legal rights to clients or patients.
A nurse paralegal in a law firm may work under an attorney who specializes in working with elderly clients or provide assistance to various attorneys who handle elderly clients on an irregular basis. Your job will be to help lawyers prepare for discussions, create presentations, research medical records and charts, and interview witnesses and clients. You will also need to stay abreast of legal developments in your field to ensure all advice is in accordance with current laws.
Obtaining a Master of Arts in Gerontology & Master of Aging Services Management
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for lawyers and paralegals stands at 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Employment in these sectors is only average, which means that it is important for you to have above-average qualifications to set yourself apart from other applicants. A degree in gerontology will give you the training and certification you need to find a fulfilling career path.
Any lawyer or paralegal who is considering working in civil law, elder law, public interest law or some form of medical law will find that gerontology training is invaluable when dealing with elderly clients. At the same time, there is hardly a single field of law that does not impact senior citizens in some way. Criminal law, personal injury law, immigration law, employment law and tax law all affect senior citizens at one time or another. Being able to provide specialized legal advice and assistance to senior citizens and corporations that work with them is an asset that can enable you to stand out in a crowded job field and open new and exciting avenues of opportunity.
The University of Southern California offers a Master of Arts in Gerontology and a Master of Aging Services Management degree that includes a number of courses specifically related to the application of gerontology in a legal setting. Such courses include Applied Policy Skills in Aging, Applied Legal and Regulatory Issues in Aging, and Social Policy and Aging.
Gerontology courses are not just for doctors, nurses and social workers. An individual who has training in both law and gerontology has the potential to positively impact on the lives of hundreds or even thousands of senior citizens, both now and in the future.