For too long many gerontological nurses have assumed a passive stance. We ourselves must recognize the credence and worth of our specialty and then advocate to see its implementation to the fullest. The time has come for gerontological nurses to stand up and be counted. We can no longer afford to be cast aside by our professional peers assigning us to positions of lower status and prestige, even when this is only an inference reflective of societal stereotypes of the aged. We will no longer consider ourselves somewhat questionable by reason of our choice to work with the elderly. We can and should take assertive action to provide for our collective voices to be heard and our presence to be felt.
Gerontological nursing is a specialty that is far too minor in the decision and policy making groups of our professional organizations and the curricula of our nursing schools. Credence is needed for the specialty to advance further. This credence has not and will not come about through the overt need that society has placed before us. For as a group, the elderly represent the largest health consumer sector for whom nursing provides services. We must assist the nursing profession to become more aware of the unique aspects of health needs of the aged.
For those of us involved in professional organizations, there is much that we can do. The fact that we may be a minority should not stand as a deterrant, but rather as a challenge. We need to enlighten our professional peers to the necessity of creating greater change within our organizations and the health delivery system. As we assist in the advancement of our specialty, we will be assisting the aged we serve because of the reciprocal nature of these interactions.
In nursing schools, largely because nursing faculty represent specialties, nursing educators have demonstrated great reluctance to identify specific gerontological nursing content. As a nation, we are not preparing nurses who are adequately equipped to meet health manpower needs. The elderly need graduate nurses to serve them who possess greater gerontological nursing knowledge and skills than they are now being taught. To continue to haphazardly integrate gerontological nursing content reflects the inability of nursing educators to come to grips with the reality of health manpower demands. Schools that are introducing beginning nursing students to the institutionalized elderly are providing a disservice to both the client and student. State mandates can persuade nursing education that more must be done. Thus far, only two states, Kansas and Florida, have implemented specific mandates in their nurse practice acts relative to gerontological nursing inclusion in nursing programs. Nurses in other states should strive to gain further visibility of the specialty in their nurse practice acts.
The State Boards of Nursing examinations stand as a powerful tool to direct the inclusion or exclusion of content. These examinations will be integrated in 1982. Will gerontological nurses possessing the requisite expertise be included as item writers of the new exams? Will test items specifically relative to gerontological nursing carry the same weight as mental health or pediatrics? Or must we fight for mandates to see that this becomes a fact?
In our advocating for gerontological nursing, we can enlist the assistance of other groups by becoming active in community, state, and national organizations. Aligning ourselves with groups such as the Gray Panthers and other senior activist groups can help our cause. We can participate in PSROs to provide expertise in auditing quality nursing and health care for the elderly. We need to become more highly involved in health service organizations on all levels. This becomes more imperative when agency boards are involved in policy making. The State Boards of Nursing should have gerontological nursing expertise representative on their boards. Most area-wide agencies on aging do not have nurses on their boards. And how many of us serve on state councils of aging? Where is the gerontological nurse on the federal Council of Aging. Health systems agencies are powerful planning groups on the local level that need the expertise of members who are gerontological nurses. How many gerontological nurses are on state or federal planning councils? Will there be gerontological nurses on the planning council for the 1981 Conference on Aging? Because we are a vital member of the multidisciplinary team that comprises the discipline of gerontology, we can begin by putting our proverbial foot in the door and enter the enterprise of aging. Although we may still be a minority, remember we represent the majority-our time is now!