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School of Social Welfare Garners National Recognition for Training Social Work Students in Aging Care

Contact(s):  Catherine Herman (518) 956-8150

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 6, 2008) -- The University at Albany-SUNY's School of Social Welfare was recently commended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for its pioneering education initiative that attracts and trains social work students to the aging care field. A recent IOM report, Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce, highlights UAlbany's initiative in light of the nation's challenge of recruiting and training healthcare workforce to meet the needs of the growing elderly population.

UAlbany's School of Social Welfare was one of the first of 72 schools to receive a three-year grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation to develop Internships in Aging Project (IAP).  The School was also chosen by the Foundation to assist in developing these programs and provide technical assistance to other social work programs nationally.

"Both nationally and internationally, our School has been at the forefront of addressing the dramatic increase in the size of the aging population and meeting needs of the elderly and their families," said Katharine Briar-Lawson, dean of UAlbany's School of Social Welfare. "Our top priority is to prepare social workers for careers in aging for the 21st century.

The program rotates students through different agencies so they gain a rich perspective of the full spectrum of aging services that older adults and their care-givers need. The curriculum also dispels some common misperceptions about working with older adults.

"Baby boomers are changing what it means to grow older, and students who go through the program catch on quickly that older adult care doesn't begin or end at the nursing home," said Ricky Fortune, associate dean of the School of Social Welfare and IAP program director. "Most importantly, our graduates are learning valuable, real-time skills on their feet that they're able to apply directly into the workplace. Given the demand, we can't graduate them fast enough."

The IAP program is anchored by local partnerships between universities and community-based agencies. Due to its strategic location in the Capital Region, UAlbany's partners include more than 20 not-for-profit organizations and local and state governments.

By drawing new recruits to the field, IAP helps fulfill the recommendations outlined in the IOM report, which include strengthening the healthcare workforce's geriatric skills, recruiting and retaining more geriatric specialists, and improving the quality of older adult care. Social workers, because they are uniquely trained to help older adults and their caregivers navigate today's increasingly complex healthcare and social service systems, play a linchpin role in the workforce equation.

Today, virtually all healthcare providers treat older patients to some extent during their careers and social workers are among the aging care professionals in short supply, according to the IOM report, released in April. About 60,000 to 70,000 social workers who specialize in aging will be needed by 2020, according to the National Institute of Aging, which represents a 40 to 50 percent increase over the existing workforce.

The School was ranked 12th among social work schools nationwide in the most recent U.S. News and World Report. In addition, SSW faculty consistently rank in the top five of all schools of social work nationally for their research and scholarship and the School is ranked second in per capita productivity.

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