Robyn Golden, AM '81
Winner of the 2009 Edith Abbott Award
Over her career, Robyn Golden, the [former] director of older adult programs at Rush University Medical Center, [she is now the Director, Department of Health Systems Management, College of Health Sciences at Rush University] has served as the chair of the American Society on Aging, co-founded several coalitions, including the National Coalition on Care Coordination, has served on more than a dozen appointments with national organizations, has published extensively, and won the Leadership Award from the American Society on Aging.
But perhaps her biggest accomplishment, in her own eyes, has been her success in keeping to the course she charted nearly 30 years ago to be generalist in her approach to the work. Over her career, Golden has been in service provision, program development, administration, education, research, and public policy. "I went to SSA with the notion of being a generalist and working in a lot of different places in the world of social work. I'm so grateful that I've been able to do that," she says.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Golden arrived at SSA in 1979 after earning her B.A. in sociology and psychology at Miami University in Ohio, where she says she "fell in love" with social work. "It made sense to me. The person in environment concept was really refreshing and eye opening." At SSA, Golden was so taken in the idea of a broad career that she joined a generalist support group of half a dozen students, an affiliation that lasted for more than decade after her graduation from the School.
Golden's career focus on the needs and capacities of older adults was sparked by her first two jobs after SSA, working with the elderly in a family services agency and a hospital. "I realized nobody else was as interested as I was in working with older adults, and that made me think that this must be a population that needs more attention," she says.
In 1986, Golden joined the Council for Jewish Elderly (CJE) in Chicago as a clinical supervisor, and she worked at the agency for the next 17 years, also serving as the director of clinical services and the director of program development and provider relations. While at CJE, she also joined the adjunct instructional faculty at Rush Medical Center and at SSA, where she taught the first course at the School on older adults and helped form SSA's Older Adult Studies Program a decade ago.
"I think there's a greater appreciation today in the field of social work that you can still do solid clinical work with older adults. The reality that I've found and others have found is that older adults can change and grow, and that has been a contrarian view to a lot of psychoanalytic thinking. There's still a lot of bias about working with people at the end of life," she says.
By the start of this decade, Golden says that too often she would see a successful program forced to close when the funder ended support. And so she added another role to her generalist resume-policy. She applied for and won the John Heinz Senate Fellow in Aging Policy fellowship and chose to work in the office of Senator Hillary Clinton, where she spent a year in Washington, D.C., as the Senator's aging and health policy advisor on issues such as Medicare, mental health, Alzheimer's disease, and the Older American's Act.
"The experience went far beyond what I ever imagined," Golden says. "Social workers need to be an activated workforce, like teachers and nurses. I think we need to be at the table when policy is made. We need to have a common voice, for example, on health care. Reform is moving forward and we have to be sure that our point of view is out there."
Returning to Chicago in 2004, Golden took her current position at Rush Medical Center, a job she says is "an incredible position to be in," allowing her to use all she's learned in her career in a medical environment. She continues her affiliation with SSA, as well, and remains very involved advocacy. "I will always keep my finger in clinical work as well. I love it," she says. "But at this point of my career, so much of what I'm doing is about mentoring and helping others in the field."