A shortfall of nursing faculty and the aging of Americans — two significant factors in healthcare now and in the future — are being addressed simultaneously at UCLAs School of Nursing. The schools Nursing Caring for Older Adults Young Scholars program facilitates students entry into PhD programs focused on gerontology. In the four years since inception, the program has attracted 15 students who are at various stages of their education.
“Older adults are the largest growing population that healthcare workers are faced with, and the average age of nurse educators is the upper 50s,” said Janet Mentes, RN, PhD, nursing faculty member and Young Scholars program director.
She said two passions fuel this effort: getting students into science and academia so they can move right into PhD programs and educating them to develop culturally sensitive skills in working with older adults.
Benefitting from a two-year Health Resources and Services Administration grant, UCLA has provided an accelerated entry-level PhD pathway since 2008. Students are identified and begin receiving one-on-one mentoring by faculty during their prelicensure education.Young Scholar students are involved with mentors in co-authoring papers for publication, co-authoring papers, presenting at regional and national meetings, running focus groups and collecting data.
“The mentorship process gives a sense of responsibility for what their roles in nursing should be, seeing research or academia as a way to meet the needs of patients whose problems theyre researching,” Mentes said. One student, for example, is researching African-American older adults and looking into health disparities. “This student wants to know what we [nurses] can do about these disparities.”
Gerontology, a hard sellJanet Mentes, RN
Attracting students into gerontological nursing is a feat in itself. Mentes explained that often the first impression nurses have of the elderly is nursing homes.
“But you find older adults in every setting,” she said. “Theres a wide array of looking at aging: acute gerontology, oncology and occupational health with a focus on the aging nursing workforce.”
Young Scholar Maria Yefimova, RN, BSN, said she was drawn to gerontology because of the “really good relationship I had with my grandmother who raised me.” Yefimova lost that connection when she moved from Russia to the U.S., but her interest in older people remains.
Since her freshman year, Yefimova has been involved in research with her mentor, Lynn Woods, RN, PhD. Yefimovas current focus is exploring non-pharmacological interventions for dementia and its behavioral symptoms. She decided in her senior year to work toward a doctorate; part of her decision resulted from the help students receive with the educational process. “We not only help students with their scholarly projects, but also help them navigate the PhD application process,” Mentes said.
Yefimova, now taking masters-level courses, weighed clinical practice against research and teaching as her future career. The Young Scholars program enabled her to see options. “In my senior year after I had done most of my clinical work, I explored different areas of nursing during a leadership class.”
She recognized that avenues such as research and teaching held the most interest.
Academia versus practice
Mentes acknowledged that many students wrestle with choosing academia. “The biggest issue with the program is that students are concerned with clinical practice. They ask, ‘Are we really going to be nurses? How are we going to practice?” She added younger nursing students often dont realize that most of the people theyll work with are older adults. To date, of the 11 students who have completed the program, only a few have opted out of going directly for their PhD.
“Many who dont go on for their PhDs do stay clinically focused with older adults, and many hope to continue their education,” she said.
Assisting students with sorting out what they want to accomplish is part of the mentoring process. One student, Mentes recounted, had planned to work with children and those affected with HIV/AIDS. After the student attended monthly research and education-based meetings with faculty, she discovered that the number of older adults with HIV/AIDS is expected to double in the next 20 years. That led her to choose the doctoral pathway related to that vulnerable population.
As a means of alleviating both the nursing faculty scarcity and also directing more nurses toward the nations aging population, UCLAs Young Scholars program is attaining its purposes.
“Our goal isnt that they come into our PhD program, but that they continue somewhere with their education through the doctoral level.” So far, this is the result Mentes sees. “Students are not only going on in school; they are excelling.”
Watch the video about the Young Scholars program: http://youtu.be/F8IwnPvDVVc