Gerontology Degree Graduate Programs: Master's & PhD Degrees
Medical scientists working in the field of gerontology, or the study of aging, often earn a medical degree or PhD.i If you’re planning to pursue a role that could help scientists and doctors better understand aging, as well as improve quality of life for elderly people, gerontology graduate degree programs may be a perfect next step for you!
What Is a Gerontologist?ii
Gerontologists are medical scientists who study how people change as they age. In simple terms, you can think of gerontology as the study of old people, and the biological factors involved in aging. Gerontologists may conduct studies and clinical trials, analyze medical samples and data, develop medical programs for aging populations, and much more. Perhaps most importantly, gerontologists, and gerontology programs, explore ways to make life better for people as they age. By understanding how the mind and body change as we advance in years, gerontologists may identify solutions for some of the challenges and health problems associated with growing older.
Gerontologists and other types of medical scientists may work in the following environments. (Source: BLS.gov)
- Research and development practices – 38% of medical scientists
- Colleges, universities, and other academic institutions – 21%
- Hospitals – 17%
- Pharmaceutical companies – 7%
- Medical and diagnostic labs – 1%
How Can I Potentially Become a Gerontologist?
If you are interested in pursuing a gerontology career, you may wish to consider graduate gerontology programs. Most medical scientists, gerontologists included, decide to pursue a graduate degree such as a PhD. In fact, about 36% of medical scientists choose to earn a doctoral degree. Before entering a PhD program, they usually earn an undergraduate degree in a field like biology or chemistry and take courses in math, physical sciences, and life sciences. (Source: O’Net)
Considering a master’s in gerontology program, instead? Though doctoral degrees are more prevalent, about 25% of medical scientists may earn a master’s degree. (Source: O’Net)
Of course, earning a gerontology degree program might be just one piece of the puzzle. Many medical scientists – about 25% – opt to pursue postdoctoral studies after earning a doctoral degree. Postdoctoral work is basically an opportunity for prospective gerontologists to gain more independent laboratory experience, continue with specialized research, and further hone skills and techniques, like gene-splicing. While there may not be a single path to jump-starting a career as a gerontologist, you’ll definitely need extensive preparation, knowledge, and experience in order to pursue a career in this field! A gerontologist program could get you one step closer to achieving that goal. (Source: O’Net)
Types of Graduate Gerontology Programs
PhD in Gerontology Programs
If you’re hoping to focus on research on the study of aging, this option may be worth considering. A PhD Gerontology program may allow you to participate in laboratory work and conduct original research – perfect for prospective medical scientists! i These gerontology programs are research intensive and typically require students to complete a dissertation.
M.D. in Gerontology Programs
Some medical scientists may opt to earn a medical degree, such as an M.D. (Medical Doctor). This degree typically focuses on clinical skills, not just research. i It may therefore be a great fit for those hoping to work directly with the elderly in the field.
Dual Gerontology Degree Programs
Earning a dual degree may permit you to pursue a PhD in gerontology alongside a medical degree, such as an M.D. This option could potentially let you combine research skills with the clinical skills you may need to pursue the role of a physician. i
Masters in Gerontology Programs
Some medical or research scientists, as well as professionals hoping to work with the elderly, may choose to pursue a masters in gerontology degree. You might be able to choose from an M.A. (Master of Arts) in Gerontology, an M.S. (Master of Science) in Gerontology, and other potential program options. A gerontology focus may also be available to nurses hoping to earn their MSN degree.
Masters in Gerontology programs are typically shorter than doctorate programs. They may be designed for students who wish to work directly with older people, though often in a non-medical capacity. Courses may touch on caring for older adults, health promotion, gerontological research findings and leadership skills. Masters in Gerontology programs do not require a dissertation like the PhD, but may ask students to complete a thesis. Programs, vary so reach out directly to schools to learn more.
Graduate Certificate in Gerontology
Candidates already working in a related career area may opt to pursue a graduate certificate in gerontology in order to enhance their knowledge of this specific field. These are considered the shortest and most concentrated graduate gerontology programs. This could therefore be a great option for those looking to earn a credential without committing to a full degree program. Depending on the school, credits may also be transferable to a later masters in gerontology program.
What Are Gerontology Graduate Programs Like?
Graduate gerontology programs typically emphasize two main components: original research and laboratory work. In your courses, you may develop experiments and pursue research in topics related to aging and the study of old people. You might also study research methods, data interpretation, and how to design projects or experiments. You may even find yourself supervising undergraduate research! As with most PhD programs, your PhD in gerontology program will likely involve developing and defending a dissertation before a committee of faculty members. Some Masters in Gerontology programs, especially the MS, may ask for a thesis.
Your educational experience may be a little different if you opt to pursue a medical degree, such as an M.D. (Medical Doctor), or a dual gerontology degree program. During the first couple years of a medical degree, you may take courses like anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, medical ethics, and much more. You’ll typically also learn how to take medical histories, examine patients, and make diagnoses. Finally, you’ll probably need to complete a residency program. These usually take place in a hospital and last from three to seven years.v
Some Masters in Gerontology programs, especially MA programs, may put less emphasis on lab work but will still cover core concepts related to aging. Students might expect to study the latest research in their classroom and learn how to apply those findings to providing services and products to the elderly. Contact individual gerontology programs to learn more about the student experience.
Campus vs. Online Gerontology Programs
Choosing your gerontology program format may depend on your lifestyle and goals. Are you a busy parent or working professional? You may want to consider online gerontology degree programs that could potentially accommodate busy schedules. Hoping to get involved at school, have an active social life, and avail yourself of university resources in person? In this case, a more traditional campus-based gerontology program may offer the experience you are looking for. This may also be great for those looking for access to labs and other research facilities.
Accreditation for Gerontology Graduate Programs vi
Accreditation helps to ensure that educational programs meet rigorous quality standards. Many national and regional accrediting bodies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. It’s a good idea to make sure your prospective gerontology program is accredited by one of these approved organizations. You can check the Department’s database of accredited programs to be sure!
Licenses for Gerontologists
In general, medical scientists such as gerontologists do not need licenses or certifications, as they mainly conduct research. However, some medical scientists may need a license to practice as a physician if they perform tasks like administering drugs, providing medical care to patients, etc.
Search Gerontology Graduate Programs
If you’re passionate about conducting research to improve quality of life for elderly people, or simply expanding your knowledge to better serve them, a graduate gerontology program may be perfect for you! On Gradschools.com, you can browse a variety of gerontology degree options available in levels and formats that may suit your goals. Browse below or use the search filter to get started.
Sources: [i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/medical-scientists.htm#tab-4| [ii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/medical-scientists.htm#tab-2 | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/medical-scientists.htm#tab-3 | [iv] onetonline.org/link/summary/19-1042.00 | [v] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm#tab-4 | [vi] www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html?exp=2
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Schools with Graduate Programs in Gerontology
GradSchools.com offers 136 Gerontology Degree Programs
Purdue University Global
Grand Canyon University
University of Pittsburgh
University of North Dakota
University of Maryland Baltimore County
University of Nottingham
Youngstown State University