AgingPro Eldercare Excellence recognizes Monika White, Ph.D., M.S.W.. Dr. White has made outstanding contributions in the aging arena. She is a true pioneer, and continues to be instrumental in mentoring others to excel in the field of aging.
You Know You’ve Made It When You’re Cited in a Footnote
Monika White’s CV is ten pages long. In addition to outlining her impressive career as a real pioneer in the field of aging and case and care management, it provides a pages-long list of her published articles and book chapters. She says that it was exciting to see her name on her first published article, but the real thrill was seeing her name in a footnote. Because that was when she realized her work was recognized as making a real contribution to the field.
How Monika got to be a giant in geriatrics and gerontology is a great story. It’s a series of seeming coincidences, but you have to know something was at work to make it happen. It all started when she had been working in a home for emotionally disturbed teenage girls and her co-workers encouraged her to go to college and pursue social work. So she went to college, studying English and Social Work, and, at the same time, volunteering in a variety of social work settings.
Upon graduation, she found herself with a dilemma: She had two job offers. One involved coordinating a reading center she had helped establish while in school and the other was as a youth services director for the local YWCA. Weighing the factors, Monika opted for the job with the YWCA. Boy was that a good choice.
In addition to providing her the opportunity to broaden her social work experience, it turned out that the National YWCA organization annually offered 3 women employed by the YWCA full scholarships to the university of their choice. The recipients could pursue any major they wanted. Monika applied and, despite the huge competition, won. Being surrounded by social workers encouraging her, she ended up earning her MSW at University of Southern California (USC).
That’s when the coincidences started. During her studies she had been involved in research on aging. After earning her Masters degree, she was in a bookstore and “coincidentally” ran into a man she had done research for in the past. He asked what she was doing now and she replied “Looking for a dissertation topic and a job.” Without missing a beat, he said, “You’ve got it.”
It turned out he was involved in research on how to keep the frail elderly independent and out of nursing homes. In the mid-1970’s this was groundbreaking work, and Monika jumped in with both feet. The results of her extensive research laid the foundation for what was to become the protocol for case and care management in elder care.
However, the surprises didn’t end there. Monika completed her dissertation and when it was literally at the printer being prepared (remember, this was the mid 1970’s before computers) she found herself at a community lunch. Amid the chit chat, the man sitting next to her asked what she was involved with. She mentioned she had just finished her dissertation and he politely asked what it was about. When she told him, his demeanor completely changed. He handed her his business card and said he was very interested in reading her paper.
It turned out that the gentleman was at UC Berkeley and had received a grant to evaluate a state-wide study of alternatives to nursing home placement for frail, low income elderly. Medicare had funded the grant because they believed there was a better (and cheaper) way to support the aging population than putting them in a facility. Monika ended up being hired and her work on this project became the prototype for the case management model within California’s Multi-Purpose Senior Services Program (MSSP).
From there she was courted by Huntington Memorial Hospital where she served, first as associate director then director of their program for case management services. She innovated new programs that focused on community based services, and she started becoming known as a speaker and consultant in this still relatively new and burgeoning field.
Monika continues to work with organizations assisting the elderly. Today Monika is known internationally and has traveled worldwide, speaking on a variety of eldercare topics. She says the field is still wide open and someone starting today can still, in many substantial ways, be a pioneer. There’s plenty of room for innovation and creativity. She says this field offers countless opportunities to do something significant, concrete and tangible. She points out that the elder population is incredibly diverse, with people ranging from the well elderly to those facing serious aging challenges and everything in between. And each group’s needs are different.
Her advice to those considering working in the field is to get some hands-on experience with seniors, either in nursing homes, community centers or day care—even as a volunteer or intern. You’ll know pretty quickly if this kind of helping work is for you. Since the field is growing and becoming more professional, Monika advises pursuing a degree in one of the human services such as gerontology, social work, nursing or counseling. Or, you can avail yourself of some of the many training and certificate programs in geriatrics and gerontology now offered through universities and professional associations.
As if all her accomplishments in the field of gerontology weren’t enough, there is another side to Monika White’s multi-faceted career. She’s a banjo player and has appeared regularly at some of California’s best venues for “old timey music,” including Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. Not what you’d expect from someone with all the academic and professional accomplishments listed on her 10-page resume. But then, Monika White is obviously not your average person. Her work has benefited thousands of professionals and seniors and will ultimately touch the lives of many, many more.