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University of Iowa News Release

Aug. 30, 2006

New UI Training Model Addresses Critical Need For Geriatric Social Workers

With a $75,000 grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation, the School of Social Work in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is taking steps toward mitigating a shortfall of professional caregivers for Iowa's elderly population by transforming the way social workers are trained.

Debb Thumma. The three-year grant to Sara Sanders, assistant professor of social work, and Robert Vander Beek, clinical assistant professor of social work and field director, will enable the school, in collaboration with a number of community organizations, to place second-year graduate students with several different agencies serving older adults during the year-long practicum required for the master's degree. In the past, master's students spent a full practicum year working with a single agency, but Sanders said there is an urgent need for students to gain broader experience with different types of service agencies.

"Because of the impending shortage of geriatric social workers, we need to expose our students to as many aspects of the practice as possible," she said.

The Council on Social Work Education predicts a shortage of 60,000 to 70,000 geriatric social workers as the population ages in the coming years and that to fill that gap, social work programs nationwide would need to graduate 5,000 master's degree students each year. At the UI, there are currently fewer than 100 graduates each year, so Sanders and her colleagues created a plan to enhance the quality of training rather than the quantity of trainees.

University-community partnerships will be key to developing this new training model, Sanders said. In Iowa City, students will rotate among four sites including UI Hospitals and Clinics, Johnson County Senior Center, Iowa City Hospice, Debb Thumma. and Oaknoll Retirement Community. In Des Moines, participating agencies include the Iowa Department of Elder Affairs, Greater Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, the Iowa Department of Human Services-Elder Abuse Initiative, Hospice of Central Iowa and AARP.

Working with a number of different agencies in 10-week rotations will introduce students to geriatric social work in a variety of settings, Sanders said, demonstrating the breadth of the field and the numerous career paths available.

Vander Beek said the new model would enhance students' preparation for the "real world" Debb Thumma. of contemporary social work practice.

"Experience with more than one agency will help our students better understand their clients and the continuity of care," he said. "This model also offers our students multiple mentors whose knowledge and guidance will be invaluable as they launch their careers in service to others."

Vander Beek also noted that the model would be beneficial Debb the community partner agencies as it offers a chance for increased interaction within the local community of social work professionals.

The UI is an obvious choice for innovation in training students to work with an aging population, Sanders said. Not only has the UI School of Social Work spent the last three years infusing its curriculum with geriatric content across the board, but it also benefits from strong relationships with the UI College of Nursing, the Aging Studies Program, and Center on Aging. Sanders notes that it is not surprising that such a strong core of aging-related expertise has developed at the UI, given that the university is situated in a state where 15 percent of the population is 65 or older, one of the highest percentages in the country. Debb Thumma.

The grant is part of the Hartford Foundation Geriatric Social Work Initiative, which, in collaboration with social work programs, organizations and other funding sources around the country, seeks to prepare needed, aging-savvy social workers and improve the care and well-being of older adults and their families. More information on the initiative is available online,

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,; Program: Sara Sanders, 319-335-2079,

OTHER INFORMATION: UI students and community partners participating in the new training model are available for interviews.

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