Alumni Spotlight 2022 Cottrell Awardee Carrie Graham MGS '95

carrie_graham_square.jpgCarrie Graham, Ph.D. is the recipient of the 2022 Cottrell Distinguished Gerontology Alumni Award. Dr. Graham received her MGS from Miami University and her doctorate in medical sociology from the University of Southern California, San Francisco. Since then, Dr. Graham has been working in the field of aging research, health policy, and evaluation research for 20 years. We sat down with Dr. Graham to reflect on her time in the MGS program and how Scripps launched her career in the field of aging.




Why did you choose the MGS program?

In my senior year of college at UC San Diego, I was still a bit unsure of what I wanted to do when I graduated. I had worked my way through college at various jobs, one of them was an Activity Assistant at a local nursing home. So, when I saw a listing for a new class being offered, Gerontology 101, I signed up. It was the last quarter of my senior year, and I immediately knew this was it on the first day. Gerontology was what I wanted to do. I just wasn’t sure yet how. 

I began researching master’s degrees in Gerontology. Back then, there were only a few. One of the big ones was at the University of Southern California (USC). Being a University of California student, there was no way I would go to USC! One of our biggest rivals. So I learned all I could about a college in Ohio called Miami. I applied to Scripps Gerontology Center and headed off to Ohio. It was definitely a bit of a change from San Diego, but I liked the program because it was multi-disciplinary. I wanted to explore careers in aging, and Scripps was the perfect place to do that. 

Tell us about your experience as an MGS student.

I really couldn’t believe I was in classes with all people who were interested in aging! I had only known that the field of Gerontology existed for a little while, and I had always felt a little unusual for wanting to work with older adults. So it was just incredible to be able to take classes, learn from professors, and have peers who were all interested in improving care and services for older adults. 

Coming from California, where I was used to a lot of different kinds of foods, back in the 90s in Oxford, the food choices were not that exciting. That was one of the biggest culture shocks I remember having. I drew a hard line at Ohio chili! There was one Thai restaurant in Cincinnati, and I would beg anyone driving there to take me along so I could get some Thai food. But the lack of cuisine in Oxford in the 1990s also forced me to learn how to cook! So that was the upside. 

The thing is people who love Gerontology always love Gerontology. I made wonderful friends at Scripps, who I still get to see when I go to conferences and even work with sometimes. We all still work in the field of aging, so coming to Gerontology conferences is like coming home for me. 

Tell us about your career path since earning your MGS degree.

My first job after I graduated was at the Philadelphia Geriatric Center working as a research assistant for a famous Gerontologist named Powell Lawton. The research department was actually located on the second floor of the Jewish Home, a nursing home. So we researchers got to have lunch every day with all the residents. We had an NIA grant to study the relationship between health and quality of life for older adults with chronic conditions. My job was to drive around Philadelphia and interview older adults in their homes. It’s sort of crazy looking back at it now that NIA would pay for in-home interviews, but it was an amazing experience that made me realize I wanted to get a doctorate and run my own studies. 

I then went back to California, to UC San Francisco to get a Ph.D. in Medical Sociology in a program that had a strong focus on aging policy. I realized I loved research, but it was much more interesting to me to do research that intersected with policy. 

I made a career at UC Berkeley and UCSF working on evaluations of state programs to integrate care for older adults and people with disabilities who were on both Medicare and Medicaid. I developed relationships with California policymakers and worked very closely with them to use evidence to shape program design. I loved it and wanted to work even more closely in the policy realm.

That’s when I got the opportunity in 2018/2019 to do a Health and Aging Policy Fellowship. It’s a fellowship where you move to DC and work in federal aging policy. My placement was in Congress—the Ways and Means Committee, Health Subcommittee —where I worked on legislation and oversight of Medicare post-acute care (nursing homes, rehabilitation, and hospice). It was an incredible experience and really taught me a lot about how federal and state policy intersects to impact older adults. I was very naïve about the legislative process when I arrived in Congress (the other staffers teased me because I thought legislators wrote their own bills), so it was a great learning experience for me. 

From there, I went back to California. I began working as a strategic advisor to Governor Newsom’s Master Plan for Aging, a cross-sector, cross-department, and heavily stakeholder-engaged 10-year plan to improve and align aging services across all of California. And that work led me to my current job as Director of Long Term Services and Supports at the Center for Health Care Strategies. We are a non-profit that works with all 50 states, mostly their Medicaid agencies and State Units on Aging, to provide technical assistance and other consulting services. I’m now working on a multi-state collaborative to support up to 20 other states in doing a Master Plan for Aging. 

What do you like most about the work that you're doing today?

I love working across the country on innovative state efforts to improve care and social services for older adults and people with disabilities. After almost 30 years in the field, it's very rewarding to use my experience in California and in Congress to assist other states. The really great thing is, that no matter whether it’s a red state or a blue state, most people can agree that older adults deserve high-quality, integrated care. It may be one of the only things our divided country can agree on. And we still have a lot of work to do. 

I will mention that a few years ago, I got invited to speak at a Symposium at USC’s Gerontology school. When I mentioned I was from the University of California, I got booed for the first time in my life. So that felt very satisfying, being booed by USC folks. I highly recommend it! 

What advice do you have to current students who want to work in the field of aging?

If you love Gerontology and aging, you will always have a job!