By Rebekah Paxton, EWA Summer Intern
A few weeks ago, the American Society on Aging hosted a panel focused on the latest edition of Generations, specifically on bolstering the eldercare workforce for the future.
Much of the conversation surrounded expanding the workforce—training any and all existing health workers in the principles of geriatrics, and attracting new individuals to the aging field. The conversation was important and speakers expressed frustration that not enough national attention was focused on the looming workforce crisis. In addition, audience members raised the important point that in discussions of workforce expansion, not enough attention is paid to attracting young people into the field of aging.
With our rapidly aging society, the lives and careers of younger individuals will increasingly be focused on caring for our older adults. However, the field faces unique barriers in attracting young professionals to the areas of geriatrics, gerontology, and aging policy. Many of these individuals, like myself, do not directly feel the urgency of a skyrocketing aging population or a workforce shortage. In addition, many young people have not been exposed to working with older adults and therefore feel uneasy about choosing aging as a career path.
In reality, however, aging issues will impact us all. Today’s young adults are the next generation of medical professionals, care workers, and family caregivers. By 2030, EWA projects that the U.S. will need 3.5 million more healthcare professionals & direct-care workers to meet demand for care needs. Unfortunately, many medical and care professionals are not trained to address the unique needs of older adults, and there is limited flow of new medical professionals in to geriatrics. This is due, in large part, to the financial and advancement barriers inherent in the aging field.
In addition, in Washington, D.C. and state capitals across the country, many policy positions are filled by college students and recent graduates. As interns and young professionals, these individuals are often first points of contact in Congressional offices, advocacy organizations, and research firms and can play key roles in educating lawmakers and organizational leaders.
It is imperative that these young professionals understand the distinctive challenges faced by an aging society and elevate aging issues in their work. In order to bring more young people into the conversation about aging careers, organizations and professionals in the field need to get creative about appealing to this demographic. As a young professional, I believe there are several steps aging organizations and advocates can take to demonstrate the value and importance of careers in the field. Here are a few examples:
- Directly recruit young people by boosting presence in college job fairs, career panels, and with career development offices
- Create meaningful internship, fellowship, and residency experiences that give hands-on experience and on-the-job training
- Advocate for the presence of geriatrics and gerontology training in medical school coursework and incentivize this field through financial assistance
- Increase salaries and opportunities for advancement as well as additional opportunities for training for the entire workforce
- Educate students and young professionals about the growing field of technology for aging adults
- Meet with young policy professionals to educate about the importance of being involved in conversations about aging
Attracting a younger demographic to the aging field can increase the attention paid to these critical issues. We all are impacted by aging, whether by caring for a loved one or experiencing aging ourselves. We also increasingly face a reality where our aging society will cause budgetary constraints and crowd out other priorities. With the increased demand for jobs in the aging field and the rewarding nature of the work, jobs in geriatrics and gerontology are great career paths for younger generations. Young people need to be involved in the solution to care for our grandparents, our parents, and ourselves and I hope other young adults join me in the work.
Rebekah Paxton is a rising junior at Boston University studying political science and economics. She interned with EWA this summer.
Special thanks to Mairead Bagly, who is currently interning with LeadingAge, for providing ideas about how to get young people involved in aging.