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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

HEALTH CONNECTION

Taking care of senior business

By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun


George Brown College's gerontology program is batting a thousand. Or perhaps that should be batting a hundred, since 100% of its graduates are finding employment in their field, at a time when care for the elderly is front page news.

The Ontario government recently announced a $4.3-million plan to combat elder abuse, and a two-day conference on that topic was held in Toronto last week.
(Photo, Comstock)


"Graduates are hired so fast," says Barbara Librach, activation co-ordinator of gerontology at Toronto's George Brown. "They are needed to keep up with demand."

The gerontology program at George Brown has been running for 22 years. It started as a part-time course in 1979, but by the following year, had gone full time. It takes two years to complete.

The program, taught on the Ryerson University campus, has 75 students enrolled this year, Librach says. Overwhelmingly, class composition is female at George Brown, with one or two men entering the program every year.

The class makeup for Seneca College's gerontology course isn't quite that extreme, but women are by far the majority at 80%, says John Struthers, academic chair, applied arts and health sciences.

Another difference in numbers at Toronto's Seneca is the size of the program. It, too, takes two years to complete, and only 35 students are accepted every September. Tuition for both colleges is about $1,200 a year.

Students at George Brown and Seneca range from recent high school graduates to those in their 40s and 50s.
Barbara Librach, activation co-ordinator of George Brown College's two-year gerontology program, says work opportunities in the field are plentiful. "Graduates are hired so fast. They are needed to keep up with demand," she says. (Photo, George Brown College)


Cheryl Stuart, professor and also a George Brown activation co-ordinator of gerontology, is enthusiastic about the more mature students.

"The career change people just love the program," she says. Seneca's Struthers expresses a similar view.

Students entering the regular social work program at the college are 21 or 22, he says, but the gerontology students are a little older, "and they're very well informed about what they want to do."

And just what does a gerontology worker do? Essentially, they ensure the emotional, social and physical needs of the elderly are met, especially of those who are frail, whether they are living at home or in a retirement or nursing home.

What they don't do is provide personal care such as bathing, feeding and so on.

Anyone considering the gerontology programs at George Brown or Seneca must have a high school diploma with advanced standing in English.

Mature students age 19 or over may also apply for admission. Two days a week are spent in field placements.

Once they have graduated, students from either college can expect to be snapped up. But they shouldn't hold out for a hefty salary. Struthers says salaries start at $25,000 to $30,000.

But there's wrinkle. Librach points out non-profits pay the highest salaries, and the private sector, the lowest.

Employment, whether public or private, can be found at day centres for the elderly, in the community and in long-term facilities.

Julia Warren, a first-year student at George Brown, has raised a family and spent 15 years working with her husband developing an adult lifestyle community in Markham, Ont.

She hasn't decided where she wants to work, but leaves no doubt about gerontology.

"I got to an age where I really decided what I wanted to be when I grew up," Warren says. "It seemed a natural fit."

Part of that fit is making a difference, Warren says. One day she hopes to show how important the job is and the positive changes she and others can bring about for the elderly.

(Reach freelancer David Chilton at davidchilton@rogers.com.)



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