Profiles in Social Work
An Interview with a Distinguished Gerontologist
Deborah Waldrop, Ph.D., MSW
What attracted you to the field of social work?
I began college at the University at Buffalo where I am now a professor in the School of Social Work. During those early years, I was drawn to explore a career in a healthcare profession but was uncertain which one to pursue. While exploring and discovering my interests and abilities I decided that volunteer work would help clarify some of the possibilities. I looked for an opportunity to volunteer and learn in a healthcare environment ---and one within walking distance from campus. The Buffalo VA Hospital was directly across the street, open to accepting student volunteers and needed patient visitors, particularly people who would spend time on the then geriatric floor and engage long term residents who had no family visitors. I was paired with a 93 year old woman veteran whom I visited weekly. I will never forget how timid I felt meeting her for the first time and how we instantly bonded. Over time, as our rapport developed so did my understanding of the meaning and power of professional relationships, my curiosity about the challenges of care provision in complex healthcare organizations and my feelings of being completely at home in a hospital and on the geriatrics floor. Over time, as my confidence slowly grew so did my awareness that as a social worker, I could work with people like Mrs. J and then spend my career in places like a hospital geriatrics floor where I could make a difference in peoples' lives.
How has the GSWI benefited your career?
The GSWI has provided a wealth of opportunities for me to establish strong connections with colleagues who share similar values, interests, ideas, goals and challenges. As the only gerontologist in the UBSSW, I often work alone. The GSWI network has become a fundamental part of my professional life by creating opportunities for consultation, collaboration and peer support that is specific to my professional life as a gerontological social work professor. Through the GSWI I have an invaluable and rich network of colleagues on whom I depend. As a Hartford Faculty Scholar I received guidance and mentorship that helped shape and direct my research, teaching and progression toward tenure. I cherish the friendships I have made with colleagues from my cohort as well as others who speak the language of aging, understand the demands of academia and share similar research dilemmas. As part of the CDI program I have seized ongoing opportunities to work with faculty colleagues on bringing aging into their classroom. Through the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education I have had the opportunity to bring local attention to the workforce needs for an aging-prepared workforce and to rally community support for innovative field education.
How has it allowed you to do what otherwise would not have been possible?
The GSWI gives meaning and credibility to the work of individual academics and gerontological social work practitioners who strive daily to improve care for older people. As a nationally known initiative for change, the GSWI has created a community of scholars and an agenda which gives name recognition and an identity to the growing need for geriatric social workers.
What are your career goals?
My career goals are (1) to contribute to the growing efforts to improve care for older people who are facing life's end through research that increases awareness about the experience of dying and ultimately contributes to improved care; and (2) to help prepare future generations of social workers with the knowledge and skills they will need to provide excellent professional care for growing numbers of older adults and the people they love.
Updated November 18, 2010
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