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The Importance of Educating Nursing Students

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The Importance of Educating Nursing Students in Gerontological Nursing


The number of people over the age of 65 is more than ever before and will only increase as the generation of ?baby boomers? starts to retire. However, there are not enough schools of nursing that offer coursework in gerontological nursing as part of their core curriculum. In addition, nursing faculty is not adequately trained to instruct students in this critical area of nursing. Nursing students must understand and appreciate the demand for care of the aging population so that they can learn and apply this knowledge in their nursing careers where they will inevitably encounter a vast majority of senior citizens.

The Importance of Educating Nursing Students in Gerontological Nursing

There is a lack of gerontological nursing education in schools of nursing today. Thus there are few nurses that are equipped to effectively care for senior citizens. This is a problem because the population of senior citizens in the United States is increasing and will continue to increase significantly in the years to come. Therefore it is important for nursing students to understand what gerontological nursing encompasses and why it is so important.

Students of nursing also need to encounter mandatory curriculum that is specifically designed to teach them how to care for this segment of the population. Therefore, schools of nursing and their faculty must be up to date and knowledgeable in the practice of gerontological nursing so that they can provide relevant curriculum and adept training to up and coming nurses.

Initially, it is important to understand exactly what gerontological nursing is. The terms gerontological nursing and geriatric nursing are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, while both disciplines involve the care of senior citizens, there are important distinctions. ?Gerontological nursing involves the care of aging people and emphasizes the promotion of the highest possible quality of life and wellness. Geriatric nursing focuses on the care of the sick aged? (Eliopoulos, 2001, p.5).

Gerontological nursing also differs from the adult nursing issues that students will encounter. Eliopoulos (2001, p.17) indicates that the elderly experience fewer acute illnesses than younger age groups and have a lower death rate from these problems; however, if the elderly do develop acute illnesses, they have more complications and longer periods of recovery.

If older people contract a chronic disease it also affects them differently. In a 1998 study, Abrams & Beers discovered that older adults are affected disproportionately with diabetes, dementia, geriatric depression, stroke, osteoporosis, Parkinson?s disease, heart failure, and arthritis and that the treatments and causes of these conditions can differ based on age (Grocki & Fox, 2004).

Most elderly people have at least one chronic condition and typically they have several

conditions that must be managed simultaneously. Chronic illness causes some activity

limitations for personal care in 49 % of all older individuals, and 27% have difficulty with

home management activities. The older the age, the greater the likelihood of difficulty with

self-care activities and independent living (Eliopoulos, 2001, p.17).

Now that gerontological nursing has been defined and differentiated from other area of nursing, it is important to discuss why it will become so significant in the future. ?By the year 2030, 20% of the population will be 65 and older. The oldest old, people over the age of 85, are the fastest growing segment of the population? (Gould, Sherman, Mariano, & Wallace, 2001).

It is no wonder that the number of nursing colleges offering some type of gerontological nursing curriculum is increasing. However, the offerings are often inadequate and are not increasing rapidly enough to keep up with the aging population. Also, many educators are not specifically qualified to teach this critical area of nursing education:

The inadequate number of faculty prepared in geriatric nursing and the lack of aging content

in nursing curricula have been issues for many years. Unless a significant shift in direction

for the nursing profession occurs during the next few years, fewer graduate nurses will seek

academic careers, doctoral program enrollment will continue to stagnate, and few advanced

practice nurses will elect to specialize in geriatric nursing. Thus there is an immediate need

to enhance current nursing faculty capabilities in educating students about health care of

older adults and to excite nursing students about long-term care careers. Nursing programs

must consider creative strategies for both the short and long term (Hollinger-Smith, 2003).

In response to the need to ?educate the educators?, many government agencies at the state and federal level have issued grants to nursing colleges to ensure that the faculty is well-trained and knowledgeable in the are of gerontology, so that they in turn can pass this knowledge on to students. ?The University of St. Francis (USF) has received two grants that amount to more than $100,000 to further the study of geriatric nursing. A stipulation of one of the grants requires that two USF nursing faculty members become gerontology experts through post-doctoral study? (University of St. Francis, 2004).

Many nursing colleges offer some type of gerontology-based study either integrated in the regular curriculum or as an elective, but not as a required stand-alone course. In research conducted by Grocki & Fox (2004) the Midwest had the largest percentage of programs requiring gerontology courses; but this still was only 37.5%. These numbers must increase if future nurses are to be adequately trained to care for the increasing number of the aged people in the United States.

Nursing educators also need to be aware of their own attitudes concerning



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