The Faculty Educator and Aging

The importance of the field of geriatric Nursing, relies on the ability of the college educator to encourage student interest in the care of the aged patient. Educational resources are readily available and can be found in professional journals, textbooks, audio-visuals, face to face seminars, webinars and approved college curriculums.

Educators depend on various teaching strategies and learning modules that benefit the learner. One particular teaching strategy has the student write a narrative that helps her explore the experiences and decisions that first led her to Nursing as a chosen profession.

Nurse educators employ many teaching devices. One, in particular, is the “learning activity” packet that focuses on specific suggestions for using a “how to” tool that deals with complicated nursing procedures in a step-by-step approach. Here are several examples for effective learning:

  1. Integrated Course Content – understanding the complex process of aging from infancy (pediatrics) to old age (geriatrics).
  2. Multiple Teaching Modules – independent modules that offer a diverse approach to learning by examining other related professions and specialties that have a mutual commonality with Nursing.
  3. Offsite “Classroom” Study – interviewing older individuals as a way of gaining insight on aging, such as relatives, parents, grandparents, neighbors, and older members of religious congregations.
  4. Selective Experiences at Various Venues – face to face contact with elderly persons in the community, in nursing homes and assisted living and senior citizen centers.

In 1990, the Kellogg Foundation funded a demonstration project in eight associate degree programs across the United States. Its purpose was to integrate care of the aged as an established segment in the general curricula.

There are, at present, two hundred community colleges nationwide, affiliated with state certified nursing homes, that educate nursing students in the care of the older population wherever they reside.

Educators who guide their students have to deal with the internal conflicts and vulnerabilities that frequently surface when a student is confronted with an ill and/or dying elderly person. They will often grapple with their own feelings of independence vs. dependence while sympathizing with the elderly who are experiencing the same inner conflicts – conflicts that usually pertain to issues with their own mortality and cultural differences that inevitably weigh on their ability to relate in a competent and professional manner.

It, therefore, becomes the responsibility of the faculty educator to provide group, as well as individual conference time, that will enable the student to work through their feelings concerning care of the elderly individual.

The following statements are from two nursing pioneers who offer their thoughts for anyone who may be considering the specialty of geriatric Nursing. “Among the first lessons that I learned from working with older patients was of patience and perseverance. I found that if they were treated as normal human beings and one took the time to talk to them, and above all, listen to what they had to say, they responded normally” (Dorothy Moses). “I am opposed to anyone going into the field of geriatric nursing until they have experienced the human condition at many points vicariously through literature and our culture or by close observation. This field demands maturity since recognizing the diversity of aging people is very important in caring for the elderly during an acute illness, chronic illness and wellness. We need a broad knowledge base and broader mind” (Mary Opal Wolin).

Here are five characteristics of an effective faculty educator:

  1. she must be professional mature and respected by her peers;
  2. she must have mastered the numerous challenges that professional practice demands of her and still be engaged in current care issues;
  3. she must be in tune with the latest evidenced-based information in Nursing and other related professions, such as social work and medicine;
  4. she must be aware of the current technology that will aid and secure for her the successful practice of Nursing;
  5. she must be trained in the prevailing technology and its application so that students can relate to it in their day to day care of the patient.

Final thoughts – The profession of Nursing, whether it be caring for an aging and frail individual, a sick child, or a dying soul, will forever be known as a noble profession that cares for all who reach out for a comforting hand and words of hope.

The poet, Emily Dickinson, said it best:
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without words,
And never stops at all.”
The world is in the grip of a terrible crisis. I ask that we all heed Dickinson’s words urging us to visualize the concept of hope as a brighter tomorrow, a hope that “never stops at all.”

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