The demographic imperative to prepare gerontologically competent social work practitioners is well-established. Accordingly, curricular infusion efforts that enrich the aging content of social work education have been deemed effective strategies to prepare social workers for practice with older adults across all areas of specialization. Gerontological social work competencies serve as an effective mechanism for assessing outcomes of such interventions and provide an important basis for evaluating the impact of curricular infusion efforts on student learning.
This study examined the involvement of one MSW program in the Gero Innovations Grant Masters Advanced Curriculum Project and aimed to assess the affect of curricular infusion on MSW students' self-assessed mastery of gerontological competencies within a newly implemented health/behavioral health concentration. An additional study objective was to determine the degree to which curriculum infusion influenced student's knowledge, attitudes, and career intentions related to social work practice with older adults.
Infusion strategies were integrated throughout the MSW advanced practice year and centered on three areas: providing educational materials, offering skill-building opportunities, and linking field internship experiences with gerontology. Different areas of focus were targeted each semester; this study evaluated the impact of first semester infusion efforts, which highlighted fine-tuning assessment skills, exploring community resources, and generating effective referrals. Impact was measured via a student questionnaire administered at the beginning and end of the semester. The sample included MSW students enrolled in the Advanced Direct Practice concentration (n = 89); 90 percent were female and 70 percent were Caucasian. Questionnaire design provided data on students' past formal and informal experiences with older adults as well as their perceptions regarding the value of gerontology, interest in social work practice with older adults, and self-assessed mastery of gerontological competencies. Paired sample t-tests were utilized to examine changes in student responses from pre-test to post-test.
Results indicate that following exposure to the gero-enriched curriculum, students made gains in several gerontological competencies, with the greatest gains among students with no prior formal exposure to older adults (p < .05). In addition, students reported the most improvement in their ability to differentially diagnose dementia, delirium, and depression, which was a topic of central focus amongst the educational material provided by the project (p < .000). While students viewed gerontological content as an important component of an MSW education, they were less likely to recognize the linkage of gerontology to their own careers (p < .000), a finding which replicates results of previous research. This finding was surprising given that 47 percent of students were specializing in health/behavioral health and 80 percent anticipated employment in multigenerational practice settings.
Conclusion and Implications:
Findings suggest the need for additional strategies to improve competency gains for students who have previous formal contact with older adults and continued efforts to enable students to see the linkage between gerontology and diverse areas of practice specialization. Next steps involve assessing the differential impact of the three individual infusion strategies and examining the influence the level of curricular ingration has on students' learning outcomes.