Teaching students about aging is an art. But some of us forget that it is easier to teach than to learn.
Can students feel happy or interested in this last stage of life, when they are profoundly concerned with their own stage of life (i.e., getting married, having children, learning a profession, achieving financial resources, housing, car, etc.)?
Some of our colleagues feel frustrated by the fact that there is no relation between the input they invested in the nursing student and the output they receive as feedback. The gap between the expectations of the gerontic clinical specialist teacher and students cause those who dealt with the process to give up by saying "It is not worthwhile, they are oriented through the various intensive care units or other sophisticated technologies."
My professional and personal experience has led me to a new ideology:
1. The input is worthwhile.
2. Content should be made as relevant as possible to the student's current life stage. They will need to relate aging to their present generation and experience with others, e.g., grandparents or parents.
3. Scientific knowledge should be built into the general nursing program, for example, when teaching physiology - we should discuss changes in aging. Similarly this is when we should discuss symptoms, pain, blood pressure, etc., in the eideriy
4. The main emphasis should be on attitudes, norms and ethical issues in the care of the elderly.
I would like to share with you an interesting creative experience.
Students in Tel Aviv University earn their bachelors degree in nursing after working some years as registered nurses. They must complete 48 credits in university courses, of which gerontic nursing is worth one and a half credits.
In one assignment, students were expected to choose someone they perceived as old, make a contract, meet with them at least once a week for eight weeks and try to learn from them about aging. Part of the stories and techniques of communication were shared with their classmates.
The second task was to choose one videotape from the audiovisual library for the aged. The assignment was to understand the subject of the film, read and write about the theoretical issues the film deals with and share them with classmates.
This exciting experience worked very well. The fact that students had to choose a film forced them to see many films and think about the subject of each film. The film chosen was usually the one that touched the student most. The motivation for increased learning was great.
These two assignments were presented to the class. The assignments resulted in the dissemination of many issues in gerontic nursing. Students paired up to share a subject. In a class of sixteen, we covered eight subjects and heard sixteen actual stories of the elderly. The ages chosen by the students ranged from 62 to 90 years.
Two students who talked about intergenerational conflicts in the family brought one student's 62-year-old mother. They simulated expectations of the two generations. The discussion rapidly changed to a real conflict situation. Everyone was touched from the elder's position, point of view and life stage.
These experiences led to the students' visiting and learning more about services for the aged in their community. They shared these findings with their classmates.
Bringing to students "gerontic nursing" as a touching and creative experience, will not necessarily result in new nurse graduates working with the aged in long-term care, but it will influence their attitudes toward the elderly in whichever setting they choose to work.