Karen Hirschman, PhD, MSW from University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA
Q: How long have you been a GSA member?
A: Since 2005 (11 years) When I first became a member, I was not very involved and did not know how to navigate beyond attending the meeting and presenting. Over time, I found people with similar interests and joined interest groups. Getting involved in the interest groups and becoming a convener has allowed me to connect with people across GSA and expand my research network. Spending time each year with colleagues from around the globe, presenting and learning about the latest research in the field of aging is invaluable.
Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: Being involved as a member of GSA has assisted me in building my career in the field of gerontology through the multiple mechanisms available (e.g. networking, preconference workshops, conference presentations, becoming a Fellow, taking leadership roles.)
Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: While I always enjoyed spending time with my grandparents, when I was in college I helped out in a nursing home and discovered a great love for working with older adults in the long term care setting. When I decided to become a social worker I shifted to working with children and young families, but never had the same excitement, joy and fulfillment that I felt working with older adults and their families. Eventually, I found myself back in in the long-term care setting working as a social worker in a nursing home. That position set the stage for my work today focused on transitions in care for older adults with cognitive impairment and their family caregivers.
Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: It is important for people to join GSA at any stage of their career. There are a multitude of opportunities to get involved, meet people and collaborate not just at the conferences but through the online network in GSA Connect.
Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: I am a Research Associate Professor in a school of nursing. My role is primarily focused on research with my team in transitions in care for older adults with the added benefit of being able to focus on my area of expertise with persons with cognitive impairment and their family caregivers. I serve on dissertation committees and mentor postdoctoral students.
Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: There are many memorable moments that have left an impression on me and solidified why I work in the field. I used to go to visit residents from our nursing home when they were hospitalized. On one occasion I was visiting our oldest resident who was 99 years old. I cannot recall why he had been hospitalized but he had severe dementia as a co-existing condition. His family was at the hospital with him; children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. When I entered the room and said hello his family members, whom I had not had the opportunity to meet before, he woke up and began to call out. I approached his bedside and asked his family if I could hold his hand. He did not speak much but I remember gently speaking with him and smiling. He held on tight to my hand and calmed down. I continued to chat with the family and held his hand, all the while keeping him as part of the conversation. It was not until a few days later when the family called to share that their patriarch had passed and thank me for coming and spending time with them. They shared that they had not seen his face light up until I visited and thanked me for visiting and spending time with them all. It is moments like that which solidify why I work in this field.
Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: Get involved! There are so many ways to get involved and meet people. Use the networking opportunities as much as possible. Do not be afraid to send someone an email or call to learn about their work, ask for guidance or find a collaborator!
Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments?
A: In 2015 I was selected as a Fellow of GSA and became the NewCourtland Term Chair in Health Transitions Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia, PA.
Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did it make a difference?
A: I have had several mentors at different stages of my career and in different disciplines. Each has had a significant impact on my path forward taking the time to advise me and, at times, nudge me in the right direction.