Profiles in Social Work
Integrating Cultural Differences into Practice with Older Adults
Karen Bullock, PhD, LCSW
My interest in the field of aging and social work began with my dissertation research, which examined the interface between formal and informal services among three different race/ethnic groups (Puerto Rican, non-Hispanic White and African American) of older adults. When I began this academic endeavor, I had not envisioned the path I would travel to carrying out the work, which I am truly passionate about. Understanding cultural differences and integrating cultural competent practice approaches into practice with older adults are my passions. The field of aging and social work allow me the opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people who are often disadvantaged and underserved.
I am particularly interested in social support networks and how people of color utilize informal networks to meet their basic needs for survival and quality of life. I began by exploring such networks and discovered that Puerto Ricans and African Americans were more similar than different in terms of the types and patterns of care community-dwelling older adults received from their informal caregivers. The training that I received as a doctoral candidate at Boston University and the New England Research Institutes, created access to more than 2,000 older adults who provided data on cultural differences in caregiving. This knowledge combined with my graduate training as a mental health clinician fostered greater interest in integrating cultural components to practice with older adults.
More specially, I have focused on populations of color (Latino and African American older adults). I have published research which addressed grandparents raising grandchildren, community-capacity enhancement for breast and cervical cancer screening, and end-of-life care issues with these populations; all of which emphasize the relevance of social support networks and culturally specific practice approaches.
In 2003, I received the Project on Death in America award, which enabled me to develop resources for people faced with issues of death and dying. The SOROS Foundation provided support for my developmental research and inspired me to do further work in end-of-life care. Subsequently, in 2005, I received the John A. Hartford Faculty Scholar Award, which supported my research on the Dying Experiences of Racially Diverse Older Adults: Factors Influencing End-of-Life Care.
The GSWE has enhanced my effectiveness as an academic leader, a role model for my students and colleagues interested in working with disadvantaged populations, as well as my capacity to mentor future generations of social workers. Without such support, I would not have been able to develop my career in aging as I have. The GSWE social work aging network is invaluable. The abundance of resources and accessibility to senior colleagues with expertise and wisdom has made it possible for me to successfully engage in research, and become an effective educator, scholar and community leader.
My career goal is to continue to make contributions in these areas so that I have a positive impact on the quality of life of older adults, especially those who are disadvantaged and under-served.
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Updated November 18, 2010