April 13, 2021
Gerontology Graduate Certificate Reflects Growing Demand
For the first time ever the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work is offering innovative, stand-alone, graduate-level education that focuses on clinical social work with older adults.
“All you have to do is look at Canada’s demographics to understand the future demand for social workers with specialized skills and knowledge in working with older populations,” says Jennifer Hewison, PhD, who is leading the certificate for the faculty.
This demand has already been leveraged by several of our recent grads. Allegra Samaha (MSW ’18) has long had a passion for working with seniors that flowed from her personal experience caring for her grandmother who was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Her passion helped launch her career.
Samaha says many agencies were actually surprised when she contacted them to apply, “I was 18 or 19 years old and I’m contacting agencies saying, ‘I want to come work in your agency.’ People were flabbergasted by that. They were like, ‘Really? Really you do?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ So – not to downplay the work I put in – but I felt like I almost had an easier pathway into job opportunities because I wasn't competing with a huge amount of new graduates. And because I came in – not just desperate for whatever job I could get – but because I was actually passionate about the area.”
I felt like I almost had an easier pathway into job opportunities, because I wasn't competing with a huge amount of new graduates. And because I came in – not just desperate for whatever job I could get – but because I was actually passionate about the area.
– Allegra Samaha (MSW'18)
Kylie Kettles (MSW’15) actually told herself she would never work with seniors, but as she puts it, life threw her a “curveball.” Once she found herself in the work she discovered that she loved it. First of all she hadn’t appreciated the clinical experience she would gain in working with a population with layers of complexity, often created by the co-morbidities associated with aging. Secondly, she grew to love working with her older clients as she came to appreciate the unique gifts they offered.
I like the life story. There’s something really beautiful about the chapters of life that these people have lived through and the picture that's illustrated within the book of their life. I like that they're a very gracious population. They're very polite population.
– Kylie Kettles (MSW'15)
“I like the life story,” she says. “There’s something really beautiful about the chapters of life that these people have lived through and the picture that's illustrated within the book of their life. I like that they're a very gracious population. They're very polite population. And I like their toughness and the grittiness sometimes right? Sometimes they can be – we call them a bit prickly – and we mean that in a gentle way. But I like that you know? And I can appreciate all of these different life experiences that have brought them to maybe be dealing with some of the challenges that they're dealing with now.”
Both these recent grads advise those thinking about clinical practice in gerontology not to be afraid of a rewarding area of work. Kettles, who currently works with youth in an Alberta Health Services drug treatment program (but plans to return to working with seniors), says she was initially resistant because she was “afraid of being pigeon-holed” early in her career. However she says that’s not a productive way to think about things.
“The beauty of social work is that you never really have to change careers,” she says, “because there are so many different things that you can be doing. I'm a Class-A example of that. You don't know what where you're going to be when you start vs. where you'll end-up or even where you'll be at midway through.”
Kettles and Samaha will likely be featured as guest lecturers for the Graduate Certificate, and both say they plan to really focus on practical learning when they present, saying that this is an area that they felt was somewhat lacking during their degree path. To that end the Gerontology Certificate features four in-person residencies, which are unique opportunities for students to build skills in a safe setting. The Faculty is also offering a Graduate Certificate in Advanced Social Work Practice. This provides a theoretical foundation and teaches research skills for those looking to elevate their practice.
Samaha encourages social workers considering working with seniors to simply go for it, saying, “They have stories and wisdom. I learn just as much from them as they get from me. There’s more of a mutual relationship there, to a certain extent. I just think it's exceptionally fulfilling for what you put in versus what you get out.”
The Faculty of Social Work Graduate Certificates offer flexible graduate social work education. These eight month (Sept - April) programs are offered primarily online with four, in-person, residencies at one of our Alberta campuses. Some students choose to pursue their Master of Social Work through certificates. To apply students need to have a Bachelor of Social Work and experience in the human services.