Geriatrics Education: Teaching for Tomorrow

“In order to improve geriatric care, we have to go upstream and help the educators who are preparing those who are entering nursing practice,” says Colleen Gullickson, PhD, RN, GNP, Professor and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs at Edgewood College’s Henry Predolin School of Nursing in Madison, Wisconsin.

Gullickson knows. She’s been a nurse educator for 35 years and co-organized a successful statewide conference this summer titled, Together Towards Tomorrow: Engaging Nurse Educators to Advance Geriatric Education.

“Not many nursing students come into their education thinking they want to care for older adults,” Gullickson explains. “If I can get one or two students out of a class interested in geriatrics, I feel like I’ve achieved something. We have to really bring our A-game as educators to get people excited.”

The importance of engaging nursing students and better preparing them to care for older adults is clear. The number of Wisconsin residents age 65 and older is expected to double by 2040. Across settings, generalist and specialist nurses will see more older adults with complex care needs who are trying to maintain their independence and quality of life.

Conference participants discuss topics during a “Gero Cafe” session

The June conference is one of three interrelated efforts by Gullickson and her Edgewood colleagues being supported by the Helen Daniels Bader Fund, a Bader Philanthropy. Last fall, the Edgewood group surveyed schools of nursing across Wisconsin and found strong interest in collaborating on geriatrics education. That led not only to the conference, but also to an online portal of instructional resources, hosted by the Wisconsin Center for Nursing.

The resources posted there—including the National League for Nursing’s Advancing Care Excellence for Seniors or ACE.S, California State University System’s Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching or MERLOT, and a list of educational videos by topic—were chosen to connect instructors quickly with classroom-ready materials and activities.

Gullickson wants the online portal to help “people use their time wisely when they’re developing new geriatrics content,” she says. “There’s a ton of stuff out there. We highlighted a few resources, so people aren’t reinventing the wheel. The people who developed these resources did it well.”

Sarah Endicott, DNP, RN, GNP, would agree. As a relatively new clinical assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing, she attended the Edgewood conference to learn from other instructors.

“What I found most helpful was the huge packet of resources for teaching, especially online resources,” Endicott says. She teaches in the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program and at the time of the conference was developing active learning strategies for her blended courses, which use both online and in-person instruction.

On the MERLOT website, “You can search topics to find all these interactive online learning activities,” explains Endicott. “I’ve found a lot that I’ll incorporate into my classes. It’s a treasure trove of material.”

More experienced instructors also benefited from the Edgewood conference and online portal.

“Anything about geriatrics and education, I try to attend,” says Barb King, PhD, RN. “Even though I’m an expert in geriatrics, it’s the delivery of information. I’m always looking for different ways to make it fun and exciting for our students, so that they want and choose to work with older adults.”

King is an assistant professor at the UW–Madison School of Nursing who teaches gerontological nursing. At the conference, she appreciated the time spent walking through the ACE.S simulation materials.

“I had not explored that site very much or thought about how to bring those materials into a large active learning classroom,” says King, whose class includes 150-plus undergraduates. “They have really cool recorded vignettes of older adults. One is a woman talking about really wanting to go home. She’s in the hospital with a hip fracture. I’m thinking of having students listen to the first five minutes, as a set-up for a case study they’ll work on. That makes it more real for them, rather than just me saying, ‘Here’s your case study. Read it and start working.’”

In addition to the online portal and conference, Gullickson and colleagues are mentoring nursing educators across the state who signed up for assistance with a particular project.

One project that Gullickson’s consulting on “has to do with advancing end-of-life and palliative care in their curriculum,” she says. “Another person who teaches at a technical school is very interested in changing the conceptualization of geriatrics as an add-on topic. She wants to challenge faculty to think about geriatrics as the norm. Instead of having a special class over here about older people, why not have everyone start learning about older adults?”

“We have about 15 people that we’re mentoring,” says Gullickson. “We’ll work with them throughout the year. The hope is that at the conference next year, some will present on what they worked on with us.”

Gullickson sees the mentoring model as the best way to advance geriatrics education within different nursing programs and at different types of institutions.

“The question of where geriatrics fits in – it’s different everywhere,” she says. “We have to work within people’s contexts. The educational challenges that you’re facing in institution A are very different than what I’m facing in institution B.”

–Diane Farsetta
Photo by Tammy Banfield, Edgewood College