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An Aging Population

Vol. 6 •Issue 17 • Page 8
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An Aging Population

Gerontology, graying of the nursing workforce focus of summer institute

The Chicago Institute for Nursing Education's 7th Annual Summer Institute was held recently at Saint Xavier University, Chicago, and hosted by the university's school of nursing.

This year's theme was Nursing Education in the 21st Century: Implications of an Aging Population. Presentations focused on ways experienced nurse educators, administrators and clinicians can share their knowledge, ideas for reflecting care of the aged in nursing practice and curricula, and facilitating an appreciation among nursing students of aging and caring for the aging.

Global Perspective

"Nurses are part of the world, not apart from it," said Barbara Hatcher, PhD, MPH, RN, in her keynote speech. Hatcher is director of the Center for Learning and Global Public Health at the American Public Health Association, and secretary general of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, both in Washington, DC. Hatcher recently conducted research on aging and the nurse workforce and produced a white paper, commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled Wisdom at Work: The Importance of Older and Experienced Nurses in the Work Force.

Hatcher said nursing is not the only profession facing a shortage of workers. Other professions facing the same dilemma include teaching, public administration, information technology and manufacturing. This is due in large part to the aging of the overall population, she said. "Nursing is competing against many fields in capturing the interest of young people."

The Wisdom at Work study looked at nurses 45 and older. Identifying emerging best practices to improve the retention of experienced nurses in hospitals was one of the study's objectives. Best practices noted in the study included clinical mentor programs, flexible scheduling options, phased retirement with health benefits, overhead lift devices and round-the-clock lift teams, seasonal schedules and subsidized child care for grandchildren.

There is no time to waste in implementing such programs. Hatcher said by 2010, 40 percent of the nurse workforce will be more than 50 years old, and by 2015, half of today's working nurses will be at retirement age.

Transition to Teaching

In her presentation, "Passing the Torch: Faculty Mentoring Program," Margaret Blauvelt, MSN, MS, RN, CNE, associate professor at the University of St. Francis, Fort Wayne, IN, discussed how such a program can help ease the transition from clinician to teacher and increase job satisfaction for new teachers.

The yearlong program includes socialization to the faculty role, classroom and clinical management, testing and evaluation strategies, student advising, and introduction to the promotion and tenure process.

A lot of time is spent working with the new faculty on advising. "Faculty are terrified of this because they are so afraid of making a mistake or misadvising a student," Blauvelt said. The program has been so successful the university is using it as a model to develop a universitywide mentoring program.

Changing Attitudes

"What, you want me to work with old people?" More often than not, that is the response of students to the prospect of working with older adults, according to Elizabeth Crusse, MS, MA, RN, clinical assistant professor, and Vicky Kent, PhD, RN, CNE, professor, both of Towson University, Towson, MD.

In their presentation, "Community Health Nursing Students Enhance the Quality of Life for the Elderly," Crusse and Kent discussed how they engage BSN students in the care of older adults and how it changes students' perception of gerontology.

"I believe we have a mission to change cultural perceptions students may have to value the elderly less," Kent said. She continued to say many nursing students have had little exposure to elderly in their own community. Many don't even have relationships with their own grandparents who may have died or live far away. However, these students won't be able to escape caring for older adults as part of their nursing practice.

Crusse and Kent take their students to work in places like senior centers and senior living facilities. Students conduct screening programs and educate older adults about nutrition, polypharmacy, home safety and cardiac awareness. These experiences help students find enjoyment and satisfaction in working with older adults.

"Students need clinical experiences that provide positive experiences with the elderly. It's important to get students to engage in a collaborative relationship with the elderly," Crusse said.

Kent added it's important for students to recognize what they have in common with the elderly and to realize someday they will all walk in their shoes.

Donna Jones Pelkie is regional editor at ADVANCE.


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