Profiles in Social Work
Bringing Real World Experience to
Social Work Education
Carmen Morano, PhD, MSW
Since joining the faculty of the University of Maryland
School of Social Work in 2000, Carmen Morano, PhD, MSW,
says he has been happier than ever before. Teaching
affords him the opportunity to bring practical wisdom,
gained over a 25-year career in social work, to the
classroom. He also does research in subject areas that
proved challenging during his career in the field, especially
stress and coping processes among Alzheimer's disease
"I'm looking into the reasons why some people
do very well and others seem to end up with depression
when coping with similar types of stress," he says.
"I was initially trying to identify factors that
could predict how a person would react to the stress
of being a caregiver." Some of those factors turned
out to be socio-economic status, race, and ethnicity,
as well as the demands of other roles outside of caregiving.
"People who have other roles are going to have
worse outcomes," Morano explains.
Morano's move from the field to a university is only
the latest in a career that has been full of surprising
twists and turns. He didn't start out as a social worker.
"I first worked in sales," he says, "but
I knew that wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest
of my life. I had friends who were in social work, and
the field seemed attractive, so I went back to school
at 30 and got my masters. It was definitely an altruistic
attraction-it was much better helping people than seeing
how much I could sell to them."
A large number of social workers in Florida were going
into clinical work in the late 70's. The population
there was aging faster than that of the rest of the
country, and to Morano, the problems of older adults
seemed more complicated. They required more care from
medical and support personnel, for example, but no one
was helping them gather all of these resources together.
"I realized that there was fragmentation going
on," he says, "so my wife and I moved into
geriatric care management. I was able to provide an
objective assessment of what was happening with the
older adults. Then I used my social work skills to help
their families understand that coping with change is
difficult for all people, but even more so for older
adults. It requires a process."
To support that process, Morano would typically identify
a family's needs, prioritize them, and then decide which
available solutions were realistic and practical, given
a family's finances and the particular strengths and
weaknesses of the older adults and their children. "The
long-term reality is that older adults can spend 15
or 20 years struggling with certain problems, so getting
involved early and being more proactive is important."
What initially brought Morano to academia was not the
call of research. He and his wife, Barbara, also a social
worker, had together built Florida Elder Watch into
one of the largest geriatric care management companies
in South Florida. As the firm expanded, he eventually
needed to hire more social workers. He soon began to
realize that recent university graduates were often
lacking in the kind of practical savvy Geriatric Care
Management required. He returned to school at Florida
International University in 1996 to pursue a PhD in
Social Welfare, which would afford him the opportunity
to offer students the knowledge needed to effectively
work with older adults and their families. After graduating
he moved north in 2000 to accept a position at the University
of Maryland, where he is now an assistant professor.
Morano has never regretted the move. "Being self-employed,
while exciting and certainly profitable, was also stressful.
I looked at my life plan, my own aging, and I realized
that in an academic setting, I could take real world
skills and teach them in the classroom."
His research into caregiver stress eventually led him
to look more closely at minority subjects. Much of the
literature published to date by colleagues focused on
white, middle-class caregivers, so Morano saw a need
to study other groups, especially Hispanic Americans
and African Americans. They turned out to be more similar
than dissimilar to each other, relying far more on family
systems and extended kinship networks than on formal
services such as daycare and respite programs often
utilized by Caucasian Americans. This was due, in part,
to limited available economic resources, but even more
so to traditional cultural attitudes which considered
older adults to be wise elders.
Today, Morano finds himself drawn into new areas of
research, such as marital satisfaction among older couples.
"Older couples are living longer now," he
explains, "so instead of just having a limited
time after retirement, they can have twenty or thirty
more years together. We're finding issues sometimes
emerge about how they communicate and help and support
each other. We're also looking at ways in which new
medications such as Viagra and Cialis are affecting
Most recently Carmen has accepted a joint appointment
to the Hunter College School of Social Work and the
Brookdale Center on Aging. Wherever his new career may
lead him, there is no doubt that he'll be happy to follow.
"I probably work more hours than I've ever done,
but there isn't that sense that someone's life is depending
on my getting something accomplished in the next thirty
minutes. So it's been very relaxing in some ways, and
overwhelming in others. I'm loving it."
Updated November 18, 2010
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