The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) is a national organization that provides valuable opportunities for gerontological nurses to communicate with a variety of gerontological professionals. Over the past three years, the nursing membership of the GSA has increased by over 30%.
The GSA is the national scientific organization for researchers, educators and professionals in the field of aging. Founded in 1945, the Society now serves over 5,600 members, 613 (10.7%) of whom are nurses.* The GSA membership represents every state and over 30 countries. Through a wide range of professional activities, the GSA encourages and facilitates the development and application of knowledge in all aspects of aging. The fundamental interest of the Society lies in the areas of research, training and education. Its major goal is the effective use of its resources to improve and enhance the quality of life for older individuals. The Society aims to assist in linking gerontological research and education on the one hand, and the people who can benefit from the fruits of such endeavors on the other.
Membership involvement is the major strength of the organization. The interdisciplinary perspective, which encompasses medicine, nursing, dentistry, social work, health policy professionals, anthropologists and others, reflects the diversity of professionals committed to the field of aging.
Society members affiliate with one of four professional and/or disciplinary sections appropriate to their individual interests and activities in aging. These sections are:
* Biological Sciences: For scientists interested in the aging of animais and plants, senescence of isolated cells in culture, evolutionary aspects of life span limitation, and biochemical, structural and functional aspects of aging biological systems.
* Clinical Medicine: For professionals engaged in clinical research, education and practice with aging patients. Members of this section include physicians in general or specialty practice, dentists, nurses and other professionals engaged in health care of the elderly.
* Behavioral and Social Sciences: For research scientists, educators and practitioners in the behavioral and social sciences such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, ecology, economics and political science.
* Social Research, Planning and Practice: For researchers, educators and practitioners in the human service field. Members of this section include social workers, social planners, directors of facilities and service programs, public administrators, policy makers, policy scientists, lawyers and environmental designers and planners.
The Society's major goals are advancing the scientific study of aging and promoting human welfare by the encouragement of gerontology in all its areas. Society objectives are:
* to promote the scientific study of aging in both the biological and social sciences;
* to stimulate communications between scientific disciplines, and between researchers, teachers, professionals and others;
* to expand education in aging;
* to foster application of research in the field of practice;
* to advance the utilization of research in the development of public policy; and
* to develop the qualifications of gerontologists by setting high standards of professional ethics, conduct, education and achievement Programs and activities of the Society for its members include an annual scientific meeting, two professional publications (Journal of Geronotology and The Gerontologist), continuing education courses, dissemination of educational materials, the Research Fellowship Program in Applied Gerontology (which provides technical assistance to selected aging agencies), other special projects, representation of aging research and research policy interests in the federal and private sectors, and participation in international congresses in gerontology.
Nursing and the GSA
This past year, the Society has specifically undertaken the task of identifying the nursing members of the organization in order to better address their special interests and to capitalize on the unique strengths of this contingency.
The largest subgroups of nurses within the society are university based and identify teaching as their primary function. These institutional and functional statistics are compatible with the patterns of the overall GSA membership in that they indicate an academic coloring and the involvement of individuals with an interest in conducting, applying and disseminating gerontological research. Ten states account for over half of the nurse members. A predominance of this majority is located in eastern states (New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maryland). These geographical statistics may reflect the location of major teaching and research medical centers as well as the Society's base of operations in Washington, D. C.
The nurses of the GSA primarily identify Clinical Medicine as their society section (49%) followed by the Behavioral and Social Sciences (29%), Social Research, Planning and Practice (11%) and Biological Sciences (4%).
Unfortunately, archival data directly indexing the growth of nursing membership within the Society is extremely limited. However, membership records from April, 1981 (the oldest records available) indicate a membership of 469 nurses. In approximately a three-year period, the society has experienced a 30.7% increase in its nursing membership to 613 nurses. This dramatic membership growth underscores the potential for nursing activity and leadership in this prestigious organization. These 613 nurse members reflect a particularly large professional component of the GSA membership. Therefore, the opportunity is at hand for gerontological nurses to utilize membership in the GSA as a valuable means for networking among other gerontological professionals as well as among nurses.
The great need for interdisciplinary approaches to care of elderly patients suggests that this type of exchange is extremely important. The GSA provides an excellent mechanism for nurses to coordinate activities with other disciplines and to collaborate in meaningful ways that will ultimately enable all professionals to better serve the elderly.