The Arguments and Dynamics Around a Gerontologist License: A Qualitative Study
Population aging challenges communities to establish appropriate services and supports to meet the needs of the growing number of older adults. Gerontologists are professionals and academics with a graduate degree in gerontology who have received education in core aging competencies. U.S. states have not established a licensing process for gerontologists, which hinders their ability to secure positions currently held by licensed social workers in aging services; however, there is a shortage of social workers and gerontologists are a viable solution for filling the supply gap. The impetus to credential practitioners in the field of health services stems from the need to ensure professional competence and integrity as well as to establish formal procedures for accountability. This concept is known as fitness to practice. Ohio regulations mandate area agencies on aging to employ only licensed nurses and social workers to provide case management services; however, Pennsylvania and New York do not have the same restrictions on the credentials of direct-service personnel. The aim of this study was to better understand Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York participants’ interpretation of fitness to practice and the role of gerontologists in aging service delivery. Convenience sampling was employed to collect data through semistructured interviews with aging services administrators, and a comparative analysis was conducted to evaluate themes across the 3 states. The findings suggested that either licensure or robust training coupled with policies and procedures are both worthwhile pathways for ensuring the fitness to practice of aging services case managers, including gerontologists. An essential precursor to both pathways is a well-established scope of practice, standards of practice, and code of ethics for gerontologists, which should be defined by a community of practice that consists of key stakeholders. These stakeholders should be united in the goal of advancing the professionalization of gerontology.