Learning kindness, dignity and respect
Nursing gerontology program rapidly turns into award winner
By Jennifer Hannigan,
photograph by Ben Zweig
A grant given only one year ago has become the impetus to an Award of Excellence for the College of Nursing.
In October 2007, the College received a grant from The John A. Hartford Foundation Institute for Geriatric Nursing, which enabled Dean Cathleen Shultz and Elizabeth Lee, assistant professor of nursing, to attend a faculty development institute in Atlanta. They were given "volumes of free information" said Shultz. "We came away saturated with information. It would have taken us years to gather it on our own."
This information allowed Shultz, Lee, professors and students to incorporate the latest studies and techniques in elder care into the College's gerontology program. The "long and painful [process] paid off in the end," said Lee.
As a result of the innovative program, the College of Nursing received the 2008 Award for Excellence in Gerontological Nursing Education for the category of Baccalaureate-Level Curricular Innovation. The national honor was presented by the John A. Hartford Foundation and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Oct. 19. The recognition included $500 and the opportunity to present at the national workshop in December 2008.
Because Arkansas ranks in the top five states with the highest elderly population in the country, the College knew the need for gerontology education was great. The number of Americans age 55 and older will almost double between now and 2030 as the baby boomers begin to reach retirement age, according to Lee. "The medical community is not equipped in any theory to care for this large number, especially in nursing," said Lee.
A major component of the new curriculum was the introduction of an Ombudsman Program, which trained nursing students to become certified advocates for elders in long-term living facilities — the first of its kind in the nation. The goal of the program was to place students in long-term elder care facilities and give them the opportunity to connect with residents. The students are trained in state and national regulations and are able to identify any changes that should be made. Through their relationships with the elderly, they strive to empower their patients.
Students are also taught methods of improving the elders' health. "The key to elder care is keeping the patient mobile and healthy," said Shultz. "So many good medicines and treatments are out there now that, if you can get elders into care earlier, they're going to have a better quality of life." By keeping elders healthy, countless medical costs are cut in addition to a decrease in tax dollars spent, "which is a win-win for everybody," Shultz said.
In its fourth semester, the Ombudsman Program has produced more than 100 certified advocates. "They are like ambassadors for nursing and elder care," said Shultz. "The students are going back to their communities or to different countries and showing the places where they work the information they've learned. It's a huge ripple effect."
Along with the Ombudsman Program, the College of Nursing incorporated numerous volunteer efforts and international campaigns to allow its students to see the care of elders elsewhere. Harding in Zambia was co-founded by the College and gives students the opportunity to explore elder culture in Africa. Associate Professor Janice Bingham takes a group of nursing students to Tanzania during spring break while Assistant Professor Lisa Engel and her group visit Haiti. All of the experiences broaden the students' outlooks on elders in varying cultures.
Through the changes to the program and the interactions it produced, student feedback became increasingly positive, with 95 percent of graduating seniors stating that their attitudes toward the elderly have improved. The students were a major part of the change, but "ultimately the biggest instigator is the Lord," said Lee. "He tells us to treat people with kindness, dignity and respect."
It is by teaching these ideals that the College of Nursing has not only produced an award-winning program but has also molded Christian stewards — an even more rewarding result.
From their journals …
"Many of the residents [of the facilities] had enjoyable jobs, families and normal lives just like me. It was amazing how much I found that they were older versions of me." — Samantha Jones, senior
"I have seen a trend toward viewing aging as a natural and graceful process, almost like a rite of passage."
— Sarah Fraser, senior
"I never really thought of myself as an elderly person. Now I realize that my view of my aged-self now will really impact who I become. Treating the elderly like you want to be treated is the best you can do." — Elizabeth Allen, ('08)
"I found it so important to take the time to actually sit down and talk to those who really needed a listening ear. That's what an advocate and volunteer should be about." — Julissa Lynn ('07)
Photo: College of Nursing Dean Cathleen Shultz and Assistant Professor Elizabeth Lee share the joy of their Award for Excellence in Gerontological Nursing Education with New York University Dean Terry Fulmer and American Association of Colleges of Nursing President Fay Raines.