How Nursing Can Meet the Needs of an Aging Population
March 2014
David Vlahov

To address the complex health needs of an aging society, schools of nursing have a moral and professional obligation to generate a well-prepared workforce and produce high-quality research that advances health and health care for the elderly. Research efforts must be ambitious but focused, with attention to (1) building evidence-based health promotion and patient care strategies, (2) advancing the science of symptom assessment and management, (3) providing care for the family caregiver, (4) designing community-level interventions to promote safe and healthy environments and (5) analyzing health policy to promote an effective workforce and payment for care.

To achieve these aims at UC San Francisco School of Nursing, we have systematically drawn together faculty across three academic departments, our organized research unit and the rich and enthusiastic array of faculty in geriatric medicine at UCSF School of Medicine. The effort cross-fertilizes with organized and interprofessional faculty activities in our areas of excellence in symptom science and palliative care. The idea is to leverage the work of individuals by fostering creative collaborations that can accelerate and enhance our ability to meet a rapidly growing need. This past week we saw some of the first fruits of our efforts.

On March 17, the John A. Hartford Center of Gerontological Nursing Excellence, led by Meg Wallhagen, PhD, GNP-BC, held a conference on “Innovations in Geriatric Nursing Care.” Organized by Laura Wagner, PhD, RN, the day included talks on new research from our guest presenter, Elizabeth Capezuti, PhD, RN, who is the William Randolph Hearst Foundation Chair in Gerontology at Hunter College of the City University of New York, as well as from several of our junior nursing faculty, to a large audience of academics and clinicians from nursing and geriatric medicine. The conference ended with a discussion between our lead in nursing administration and leadership, Mary Louise Fleming, RN, PhD, and renowned geriatrician John Rowe, MD, from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, on how nurses and geriatricians can better work together to advance health among the elderly. (Coverage of the conference and other aging-related issues will appear in our April posting of Science of Caring, as well as in subsequent posts.)

And because we are fully on board with the UCSF mission of “advancing health worldwide,” earlier in March, the School held a Sino-American Summit on Geriatric Nursing with Dean Diana Lee and faculty from the Nethersole School of Nursing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The summit highlighted the unique challenges in a society where care for the elderly intersects with rapid urbanization and the one child rule; not only are there fewer young people available to care for their elders, but as young people migrate to cities for economic reasons, social relationships within families undergo significant change. The Nethersole School of Nursing faculty has stepped up its efforts to prepare nurses to meet these challenges. Later this year, we anticipate a visit with the dean and faculty from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, known for its cutting-edge research and education. The goal is to foster a collaboration between our two schools to advance nursing science. Both of these efforts build on our recent trip to China and are a centerpiece of our far-flung efforts to engage in global geriatric nursing care.

All of which speaks to the type of institutional commitment required if nursing is to mount a credible response to the growing health needs of an aging population. The response must go beyond recruiting the best faculty and students and fostering a supportive environment that nurtures excellence in research, education and service. We must prepare geriatric clinicians, while simultaneously generating and integrating knowledge into the curricula for both adult and family care nurse practitioners and clinical specialists. We must focus on individual-level health promotion and nursing care for the elderly, but also address the needs of family caregivers and create a policy climate that encourages independent living. At a school of nursing, all of these things demand enriched mentoring and support of junior faculty, organizing and developing a community of scholars dedicated to this effort, and advancing partnerships with other professions and disciplines.

In a recent UCSF-wide exercise, a broad cross section of faculty, students, alumni and community stakeholders combined to develop a vision for the future of UCSF. The most prolific group on campus was “Team Aging,” an interest group from different professions and disciplines that sees UCSF leading the way in promoting a society that honors and cares for its aging members, whose numbers are increasing rapidly. This group reflects the depth of commitment and the breadth of enthusiasm to make UCSF responsive to one of society’s most pressing health care needs. The vision is inspiring and the promise is great: UCSF can serve as a model for health sciences institutions and schools of nursing around the country. Now, however, we must act on this promise and turn vision into reality.


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