May 30th, 2010 at 10:01 am
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2020 Geriatric Nursing on the Horizon

by Isabel Fawcett, SPHR

“Working With Seniors….”

An article in a supplement to the local newspaper made me cringe as I read. “Working With Seniors Can be a Tough But Rewarding Job” is the title. So far, so good, I thought. I should have stopped reading at the title.

Leaps of Logic and Platitudes

To my dismay, there were leaps of logic and platitudes in the article that were hard to swallow. The article made me think about ageism in society and how often elders are patronized by those who are younger than whatever our society considers to be old.

Gratifying Defined: “Giving Pleasure or Satisfaction”

The Tribune Media Services article spoke to the social phenomenon of aging Baby Boomers driving an increasing demand for geriatric nurses. Citing the American Nursing Association’s and U.S. Department of Health’s projected statistics for nursing home resident populations and numbers of new nurses (R.N.’s) by 2020, the rising demand for geriatric nurses is somehow equated to “a promising and gratifying career.” Independent of other important factors, nursing shortages and burgeoning chronically ill aging populations do not a “gratifying” career make.

When I wrote Family Caregiving and Paid Eldercare: Not For Everyone, I thought it obvious that not everyone is cut-out to work with elders. No amount of exploding statistics, be it elders in nursing homes or successful nursing recruitment campaigns will change that simple fact. As with any number of jobs, there are certain skills sets required to successfully fulfill performance expectations.

Geriatric Nurses Needed by 2020

Competitive salaries and job demand may help steer student nurses to geriatric nursing, but will competitive salaries alone retain geriatric nurses? Some surveys have established that there are a few workers who leave higher paying jobs for lower paying jobs if the workers perceive greater job satisfaction.

I hope that individuals who pursue careers in geriatric nursing and medicine will think carefully about the fact that Details in Care Will Always Matter, including to elders and their family caregivers. Eldercare in nursing homes is not the same as patient care in acute care settings. By comparison to nursing home care, for example, acute care is fast-moving with more staff development and career progression opportunities.

It is a leap of logic to presume that because there is a business need for geriatric nurses, every nurse is cut-out, skilled, and/or has the compassion required to work with elders whose health may be declining.

Elders and You: Mirror Images?

The article states that elders “are just like you,” in so much that “they like to visit with friends, go to the movies, meet for lunch – they’re just older.”

Here again, the writer’s content causes me heartburn. I have known many elders who do not wish to meet anyone for lunch, be it because the elders are increasingly self conscious about difficulties eating, chewing, overwhelmed by portion sizes at restaurants, noisy restaurant crowds and environments, uncomfortably low seating that makes some elders feel self-conscious when someone else has to help the elder stand, too large eating utensils that are difficult to firmly grasp and handle, and more. The list is endless based on individual elders’ health issues and socialization.

Maybe that is what bothers me most about the well-intended article I read. It’s the sweeping elder brush – a one-size-fits-all glamorized version of elders and eldercare. In some ways, it is patronizing and condescending. If nothing else, the content has been over-simplified.

The author encourages “tolerance.” Nowhere in the article is the word compassion ever mentioned, though “sympathy because of the age of the patients” is mentioned. Sympathy? Perhaps empathy would have given me a greater comfort level.

I am rooting for the brightest, best, and most compassionate geriatric nurses on long-term care’s horizon 2010- 2020, and beyond. Nurses who are eager to give elders and their families more than “a good death experience,” as the article also mentioned.  There’s a whole lot more to geriatric nursing than ensuring a pain-free death experience. I sure hope nursing schools across America get that point across to the new generation of geriatric nurses. Think compassion, respect and dignity in care. Think hard.

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