For years, research has demonstrated the importance of interdisciplinary care. The potential benefits to clients if the expertise of each relevant discipline is applied through collaborative care planning is well established and generally accepted. Accordingly, the geriatric literature has repeatedly called for interdisciplinary care and services in every practice setting. And, to varying degrees of success, geriatric care has become increasingly interdisciplinary. Unfortunately, in at least one important aspect, nurses have failed to contribute to the progression of the interdisciplinary process.
Across the country and year round, gerontological conferences allow clinicians and academicians to share ideas and experiences, discuss trends and research, and present innovative models of care and new products. Unfortunately, nurses are infrequently among the presenters, and they are often poorly represented among the participants. Similarly, a quick review of multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journals directed at professionals serving older adults (e.g., those of the Alzheimer’s Association, American Geriatrics Society, American Society on Aging, and Gerontologic Society of America) reveals very few articles authored by nurses.
Nurses contribute their specialized expertise to the care of older clients in extraordinarily diverse settings. In collaboration with professionals from other disciplines, nurses provide care in private homes, every kind of senior housing, day care programs, senior centers, shelters, clinics, and other specialized programs beyond inpatient settings. In addition, nurses are crucial in assessing public health needs and in delivering services to communities through outreach, education, emergency preparedness, and regulatory oversight. Nurses have a wealth of knowledge, experience, and expertise that should be shared beyond the narrow confines of their own practice settings.
Many readers of the Journal of Gerontological Nursing have participated in and perhaps designed or helped initiate novel strategies to improve the care provided to their clients, while others have developed quality improvement projects and measured the effects. Other clinicians should know of this work, whether successful or not. When you—the nurses—publicize your efforts, others can learn from your experiences. Many of these strategies and projects relied on the collaboration of the entire health care team, so don’t limit yourself to just telling other nurses!
As a reviewer for the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, I strongly encourage more nurses to contribute manuscripts to this and other nursing journals. Similarly, many nursing conferences convene around the country throughout the year and welcome presentations from nurses with practical experience in diverse settings. But in this discussion of broadening the definition of interdisciplinary care, I urge you to consider submitting manuscripts or proposals for presentations to forums shared by other health care professionals, who want to learn from your experiences and are seeking your expertise.
Writing an article can be intimidating, but it does not have to be. A first step could be reading articles in interdisciplinary journals. In addition to learning a great deal of information, you will find that many journals publish articles written in an easy, conversational tone. Then take the time to write down what you and your colleagues have done or tried to do. Tell readers why and how it was done, what the results were, and what you have planned for the future. At that point, submit your manuscript to a journal. The worst that can happen is that it is not accepted, but it is likely the reviewers will make helpful suggestions on how the manuscript can be improved. Make the revisions, and you may be pleasantly surprised that it is accepted for publication.
Preparing a proposal for a conference presentation is even simpler. It generally requires little more than writing a short paragraph describing what you intend to speak about. Do it! If it is accepted, draft your presentation and then ask a more experienced colleague to help polish it.
Of course, one cannot deny the time it takes to write an article or prepare a presentation and the costs of attending conferences. But these constraints apply to all of the other health care professionals, who somehow manage to publish and to attend conferences. The absence of nurses in otherwise interdisciplinary forums implies two things: Either nurses are not interested in learning from their non-nursing colleagues, or they have little expertise to offer in return.
The contributions you make to the services and care provided to older adults is invaluable and cannot be duplicated by professionals from any other discipline. You should proudly and eagerly share your special expertise with other professionals. And, just as important, you should be participating in forums to learn from non-nursing colleagues.
Geriatric nurses should participate in every multidisciplinary forum where the needs and care of older adults are discussed. The importance of doing so is complex. It is important to participate because your assessment skills and innovative strategies will contribute to improving interdisciplinary care in many practice settings. It is also important because your own knowledge and skills will be strengthened by learning from other creative, insightful professionals. Finally, it is important to demonstrate the professionalism of geriatric nurses to our non-nursing colleagues.
I look forward to meeting you at the next interdisciplinary geriatric conference I attend!
Mara Ferris, MS, RN, CS, CPHQ
AGE: Association for Gerontologic
Exeter, New Hampshire