As America’s population ages, the demand for nurses trained to care for older adults is growing. By 2030, adults over the age of 65 are expected to make up 20 percent of the U.S. population, and advances in medical care mean that this population lives longer and becomes frailer and is more acutely ill as it ages.[1] It is clear, therefore, that this population will require a nursing workforce that is prepared to deal with an ever-increasing number of age-related conditions. The first step is to make sure that these nurses have the best possible teachers.

The FLAG (Facilitated Learning to Advance Geriatrics) program, funded by a grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation, is a three-day conference designed to train nursing faculty to most effectively present gerontological content to nursing students. The instructors at FLAG are faculty members from the University of Minnesota’s Hartford Center for Gerontological Nursing Excellence, whose mission is to work towards a highly-skilled and diverse population of nurses to specialize in the care of older adults.

King (left) and Gretebeck (right)

This August, the UW–Madison School of Nursing sent three faculty members to FLAG: Barbara King, PhD, RN; Patrice Streicher, MS, RN; and Kimberlee Gretebeck, PhD, RN. They join a group of FLAG alumni composed of both faculty and graduate students from the School of Nursing: Yvette Egan, MS, RN; Paula Jarzemsky, MS, RN; Tonya Roberts, PhD, RN; Maichou Lor, MS, RN; and Andrea Gilmore, MS, RN. Although FLAG was primarily aimed at nurse educators who were not highly skilled or experienced in care of older adults, these UW faculty, already geriatric experts in their own field, were focused on the other major element of the conference—the emphasis on active learning and the “new learner.”

Instructors today are encouraged to present content in an active way, discouraging the kind of passive learning that previous generations of students expected in college. For example, in an active learning classroom, instead of a lecture supported by a Power Point presentation, students are expected to help create each slide and thus remain engaged in the material. In order for instructors to encourage active learning, however, they must understand the student’s

experience. Therefore, during the conference, all participants were gathered in an active learning classroom, where they were able to experience firsthand the kind of learning environment that current and future students might expect in their classes.

According to King and Streicher, one of the most helpful aspects of FLAG was the effort to provide teaching and learning resources that can be used in active learning. These resources, which are all electronic and often free, not only provide instructors with a tremendous source of information, but also encourage learners/future clinicians to consider multiple perspectives (including that of the older adult patient him or herself) when providing geriatric care. The University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing is currently undergoing a major curriculum redesign, as well as planning a move into Signe Skott Cooper Hall, a new building organized to support active learning. Therefore, having faculty prepared with teaching methods and tools to effectively integrate geriatrics across the curriculum and maximize the physical space of Cooper Hall will ensure that the school is prepared to effectively teach the next generation of nurses.

The opportunity to work with instructors from all over the country was extremely valuable, allowing each participant to benefit from a wide breadth of knowledge and experiences, especially between research and clinical faculty. This collaboration extended beyond the bounds of the conference itself.

“As clinical faculty member,” said Streicher,” having Barb and Kim with me in a car for three hours, having evenings where we went out to dinner together, putting together researchers and clinical faculty around an area of interest—it was very collaborative. I’m now going to be involved in Kim’s research.” Linking teaching and research, she added, is certainly beneficial for faculty and students, but it ultimately benefits care recipients the most by improving health care experiences and outcomes.

The School of Nursing plans to continue participation in FLAG, seeing the impact of this high-quality program grow stronger. Barbara Bowers, faculty director of the Center for Aging Research and Education(CARE) at the UW–Madison School of Nursing, is fortunate to have nurses on faculty who are highly skilled in care of older adults. The new building is specifically designed for active learning, a terrific opportunity to put active learning skills to optimal effective use. The establishment of CARE also provides a perfect mechanism for bringing together clinical and research faculty to develop and implement a program that will prepare nursing students for the future. Together, collaboratively we can prepare our nursing students for the world they will be encountering.

–Jennifer Morgan
Student assistant, CARE