Michele Garrity, Brewer
Brewer Rehabilitation and Living Center, Long-term Care
Michele Garrity is used to people being surprised that, at 25, she prefers working with the elderly, not children and families. But Garrity’s career choice is as atypical as her upbringing that influenced her decision to pursue geriatric social work.
Growing up in Johnstown, Pa., Garrity was close to her four grandparents and two great-grandparents literally (they all lived within a mile radius of each other) and figuratively.
“From them, I learned respect,” says Garrity. “When they said something, we listened. Hard work was huge, too. I also learned the value of friendship and creating those supports for yourself.”
As an undergraduate in human development and family studies at Penn State, Garrity worked with youngsters for two years. But in her first year at UMaine, one of her graduate field placements was at Maine Cancer Consortium, where she assisted elders with their healthcare-related issues. In that setting, Garrity says she was on cloud nine.
“I have worked with children and families, but didn’t get nearly as much out of the experience as I did working with older people. They have so much experience and knowledge. Sitting and talking with elders is awesome.”
In GPPP, Garrity focused on chronic and terminal illnesses of elders in her primary practicum at Brewer Rehabilitation and Living Center. Two days a week, she worked with elders and their families, helping to coordinate care and ensuring that needs were met.
“I like the caregiver piece,” says Garrity, who is now pursing a career as a hospice social worker. “I thought it would be hard working with people who are dying. I’m not good with death. But doing visits with a social worker at Hancock County HomeCare & Hospice, I saw how dignifying the dying process can be.”
People with chronic illness typically reach a point in their treatment when they realize they will not get better, choosing then to live the remainder of their lives as comfortably as possible, Garrity explains. That’s when a hospice social worker can help with grief and fears, supporting both the elder and caregiver.
“The biggest surprise for me is how much I love hospice work. This program gave me the chance to see that,” Garrity says. “A lot of people when they go into a social work program say they don’t want to work in geriatrics and aren’t exposed to it. For me, the exposure drove my desire.”
Image Description: Michele Garrity