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Department: Called to Teach

Called to Teach...Gerontological Nursing?

Mauk, Kristen L.

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doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000677
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A master teacher is one who leads by example, brings enthusiasm to the classroom, and promotes learning by using a variety of teaching strategies that allow students to relate to the subject matter. Using multiple modalities to teach is especially important when teaching an often-unpopular specialty such as gerontological nursing.

Students frequently enter my courses about care of older adults with negative views of aging or the elderly. The teaching modalities I use to engage students in learning gerontological nursing in the traditional classroom setting include lecture, discussion, question and answer, videos, vignettes, simulations, demonstration, service-learning, hands-on experience, journaling, interviewing, role modeling, and mentoring.

Most students enjoy experiential learning and hearing about the experiences of others. One strategy I have used on the first day of a gerontology class is to ask students to complete the sentence, “Older people are...” with 10 descriptors. Common responses include slow, boring, smelly, and stubborn. Students' original lists are saved and compared with a new list they make at the end of the course. Students' lists at the end of the course typically contain more positive adjectives that describe older people as wise, funny, and likeable.

I also ask students to bring to class birthday cards that make fun of getting older, displaying these on a document camera for the class to see; this is using humor to prompt discussion about myths and realities of aging. Later in the course, students take a field trip to a local nursing home to visit with 103-year-old Pearl and listen to her describe her life experiences over a century. Guest speakers for later classes include a director of nursing from a long-term care facility and an attorney specializing in interesting and complex cases related to elder abuse.

Another class may be devoted to a simulation lab in which students rotate through seven stations where they engage in activities that let them experience aging changes. For example, students simulate hemiplegia as the result of a stroke (wearing a weighted arm and trying to put on a shirt), decreased tactile sensation (donning loose gloves and attempting to remove pills from a bottle), and visual deficits such as glaucoma and cataracts (by wearing glasses prepared with the appropriate distortions and trying to read the newspaper or write their name).

Past student evaluations indicate that a favorite part of the gerontological nursing course is the group service-learning project. Students are divided into small groups that work throughout the semester to develop educational PowerPoint presentations for older adults in the community, teaching on topics such as “Now you see it, now you don't: The aging eye”, “Forget me not: Alzheimer's update”, and “Keeping Your Heart Healthy.” Hundreds of older adults in the surrounding communities and care facilities have learned about health-related topics in this way.

I also directly mentor students to engage in creative teaching techniques, encouraging them to produce such items as magnets, posters, informational brochures, topic-specific Bingo games, and word puzzles to enhance learning for the older adults they are teaching. They apply teaching strategies for the elderly that we have discussed in the classroom, interact with participants before and after their teaching sessions, and keep a reflective journal about these activities.

Role modeling and mentoring are valuable strategies to promote interest and excitement in specialties of nursing that have been traditionally thought of as less glamorous. You can strive to promote more positive attitudes toward aging and the elderly by encouraging students to see the value and wisdom of old age. They learn through positive encounters with older adults that every person has a unique life story to share. Job 12:12 reminds us that “wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (ESV).

Try to role-model qualities that students may want to emulate by maintaining advanced certification in your specialty areas, acting as an expert consultant, publishing books and articles used in the classroom, or assuming leadership positions in national organizations. Demonstrating enthusiasm and passion for our work can foster these qualities in our students as well as our professional colleagues.

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