Hey all! My name is Allyson. I blog over at Allyson Wonderland Photography, but my full time job is as a social worker working with older adults. You won't find me blogging about my full time job since I'm bound by privacy laws from talking about my clients, but don't worry, there is still plenty to talk about!
How I got into social work
& working with older adults
My love for older adults started almost immediately after birth. My grandparents were 70 when I was born, and I loved spending time with them all throughout my childhood. I didn't realize that not everyone had a close relationship with their grandparents or that not all grandparents were as old as mine. Working with older adults always felt natural to me because it was familiar.
In hindsight, I think my career really started with my high school job as a nursing assistant in a nursing home. For those of you not familiar with the health care field, that means I got to do fun things like help older adults get dressed, give them baths, and yes, even help them in the bathroom. At the time, it was the best paying job there was in my little town, and to be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into!
What I didn't realize until later in life was how much working with people so closely really changed me. It takes a lot of humility to literally get pooped on from time to time. I quickly learned that for as difficult as it was for me to do those tasks, it was just as hard for the residents -- they had to trust me to provide for their most basic needs, ask for help with things they used to be able to do on their own, and let go of the privacy they had come to expect earlier in life. I learned more in those 3 years than I could ever have imagined. Here's where it really changed me -- sometimes I was the only human touch, the only actual conversation a person had that day because they didn't have family to come visit them. Having people trust me with the most intimate moments of their day made me want to be a more trustworthy person, someone who improved their days instead of going through the awkward motions & getting out of there. I learned about their lives -- their passion, their former jobs, their families, their dreams, their regrets. The not-so-comfortable parts of the job faded pretty fast.
I went off to college not realizing how much this job had impacted me. I was dead set on being a writer, so being a writing major seemed like an obvious choice. It took a year and a half of being forced to write things I didn't care about before I realized that writing was more of a hobby than a career. The more I thought about alternatives, the more I realized that I loved working with people and social work was a perfect fit. I finished my four year degree and soon after, finished my Masters in Social Work, too. Somewhere in the middle of my Master's program, I realized that I loved working with older adults. I got a scholarship and officially changed my focus to aging. I did my thesis research with older adults, which solidified my choice to work with that population.
Before I tell you more about my actual job, I have to gush a little about how much I love working with older adults. In my experience, they tend to have a lot of sass and a low tolerance for BS, and those are two things I can get behind. One of my coworkers recently went and did a home visit with an older woman who apparently said, "I live in the metallic age -- I've got silver in my hair, gold in my teeth, and lead in my ass!"
Older adults aren't boring!
What I actually do
I am a care coordinator for older adults who are enrolled in health plans [think Medicare]. The purpose of my job is to help older adults stay at home for as long as possible. That means that I assess their needs, recommend and coordinate services, encourage and support informal caregivers, make sure they keep their benefits up-to-date, etc. The business side of it sounds a little boring, but much like that first job, I've seen how even a simple phone call or home visit can make someone's day. Sometimes I'm the only person who visits that person or asks/cares how they're doing. I might be the only one who will listen to their problems and help them find solutions. Sometimes a client has plenty of family involved, but they are too embarrassed to ask for help. I love being the person they can trust to help them. Don't get me wrong -- I'm no special snowflake. It's not me, it's the listening/caring/helping. Investing time in people always pays off.
All of the warm fuzzy parts of this job are great and far outweigh the not-so-great stuff, but it wouldn't be fair to leave those parts out. There have been clients I've visited and found living in pretty terrible situations. I've had to report family members for taking advantage of the generosity of their parent/grandparent. Perhaps hardest of all is when a client really shouldn't be living independently anymore and I have to coordinate the difficult conversation that leads to them moving somewhere with more care for them. These situations SUCK, but in the end, that person is truly better for it -- not just because that helps me sleep at night, but because their needs are being met.
How to get started
If social work interests you, I think a great first step is to volunteer. Maybe older adults aren't your thing -- volunteer at a homeless shelter or a hospital. Get a feel for the population and work that interests you and go from there. Making connections and getting experience are the best two things you can do if you plan to get a degree and get into the profession. Getting your foot in the door will not only help you feel out your passion, but will benefit you in the long run. Social work is not for the faint of heart -- it's not a great-paying field and the chance of burnout is always there, BUT it is endlessly rewarding and I love what I do.
Rad Gal, Rad Gig is a new feature on The Clueless Girl's Guide where I invite really neat gals to share their really cool stories. Whether your gig is a full-time job or just a hobby, I want to hear from you! If you think you'd be perfect for Rad Gal, Rad Gig, feel free to get in touch or view the information on the Submissions page! Just submit a short description of what you do and why you think it's rad!