THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATING NURSING STUDENTS The Importance of Educating Nursing Students in Gerontological NursingAbstractThe 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 the aging population. Nursing students often see faculty members as role models and mentors; any negative attitudes that the instructors have could be passed on to their students (Grocki & Fox, 2004). Ageism exists among some health care professionals, undoubtedly somewhat influenced by the fact that providers often see older persons who need help or are ill (Ebersole & Hess, 2001, p. 2) Once coursework in gerontology has become integrated as regular study, it is also pertinent that nursing students understand the validity of this area of nursing. As students take these specialized courses they will gain a broader, more positive perspective toward aging (Grocki & Fox, 2004). Hopefully, this will help to dispel pre-conceived notions and ageism.

New nurses also need to realize the tremendous impact they could have on their older clients. For instance, ? the third leading cause of injury related deaths among seniors is suicide. Well-educated nurses can play an important role in detecting, preventing, and treating these problems (Grocki & Fox, 2004). Nurses need to know how to look for signs and symptoms of depression in their older clients and realize that depression is not a natural part of aging or a normal reaction to acute illness and hospitalization (Ebersole & Hess 2001, p. 539).

Nurses can promote joy and a sense of purpose in the elderly by viewing old age as an opportunity for continued development and satisfaction rather than a depressing, useless period of life (Eliopoulos, 2001, p. 29). Touch also plays an important role in caring for the aging population. Eliopoulos claims that holding a hand, rubbing a cheek, and patting a shoulder as basic as they may seem, can convey a message to patients that they are still valued as unique human beings (2001, p. 297). It is important that these issues are addressed because inevitably new nurses will encounter aging patients on a regular basis as they enter into the workforce. In research conducted in 1999 by Meter & Fulmer, older adults accounted for more than 80% of home care visits, 60% of primary care encounters, and 58% of acute hospital stays in addition to representing the substantial portion of long-term care (LTC) recipients (Hollinger-Smith, 2003). Long-term care is provided in residential facilities such as assisted-living homes, skilled and intermediate nursing homes, and personal care homes.

With the aging of the population, and with more patients surviving severe trauma and disease with impairments in physical or mental functioning or both, these long-term care facilities are expected to experience rapid growth (Chitty, 2001, p. 308). The growth of LTC facilities various opportunities for up and coming nurses, because there is such a strong link between the two. In the care of the aged, the nurses function as key members of the health care team and, in many cases function autonomously (Ebersole & Hess, 2001, p. 11).? Registered nurses provide supervision and oversee all aspects of nursing care in LTC setting. That is why LTC facilities are most often referred to as nursing homes.

In the world of business, having a customer base guaranteed to expand during the next 50 year is unprecedented? (Hollinger-Smith, 2003). Long-term care settings aren? t the only places of opportunities for nurses. Home health care positions are expected to increase the fastest of all in response to the expanding populations and preference for home care (Chitty, 2001, p. 144).

Unfortunately, as the population of senior citizens and the number of opportunities for nurses increase; the number of nurses entering and remaining in the workforce will decrease.? Approximately 400,000 women will enter the workplace by 2010. Even if all of them choose nursing, an additional 600,000 would still be needed to fill vacant and new nursing positions in the next eight years? (Hollinger-Smith, 2003).

The number of people over the age of 65 is more now than ever and will only increase in the upcoming decades. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that more schools of nursing offer coursework in the study of gerontology as part of their core curriculum. To adequately supply this need, more nursing faculty must become certified to teach in this unique area of nursing. Nursing students must understand and appreciate the demand for care of the aging population. As population of nurses in the workforce decrease and the number of the aged increase, it is inevitable that nurses will encounter senior citizens routinely in the workplace. It is imperative that nursing students be well educated, and sensitive to the uniqueness of the aging population as they prepare for their careers in nursing.

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