At Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL), we are always on the lookout for opportunities to bring seniors and young people together to build relationships and shatter stereotypes. We’re also deeply invested in training future generations of senior care providers. So when the opportunity came along to build a program that would combine the two, we jumped at the chance.
In 2011, HSL began partnering with the nursing program at Curry College in Milton, MA. The vision for the partnership was to enhance the health of seniors while engaging nursing students in learning about geriatric nursing firsthand from older adult consumers.
Each semester, students in Curry’s nursing program work with residents from HSL’s Simon C. Fireman Community in Randolph in classes focused on five domains of wellness: physical, social, cognitive, spiritual, and emotional. Even if they don’t specialize in geriatric care, nurses are bound to work with older adults at some point in their careers. For that reason, “Nursing Care for Older Adults” is a required rotation for all Curry nursing students, and it’s the only one that involves working directly with seniors.
“It’s a living laboratory where students learn alongside seniors and work on issues of health together,” says Mary McCarthy, director of community life at the Fireman Community. “The vitality of the nurses is palpable, and the residents feel like they’re giving back to help these students – they take that seriously.”
The Boston Foundation grant also provided the resources program leaders needed to develop and share what they’ve learned in creating this new model for nursing education. They’ve created a free online manual that is available to senior housing communities and nursing programs. The training manual includes a curriculum guide, sample program activities, a sample partnership agreement, and other tools to help expand the model nationwide.
“In our experience, this model has engaged seniors and students in a vibrant collaborative learning experience,” says McCarthy. “The program has helped each generation understand and appreciate the other’s life experiences. These students have an added dimension to their nursing education – we’ve heard many say that they’d never thought about a career in geriatrics, but now are considering it.”
Less than 1% of registered nurses and about 2.6% of advanced practice registered nurses in the U.S. are certified in geriatrics – despite the fact that the fastest-growing age group in the country is over age 65. HSL’s education programs, like the partnership with Curry College, are designed to address the shortage of health care workers who are trained to provide the specialized care that older adults need.
The Curry College partnership has expanded to include three other senior-serving organizations in Milton, in addition to the Fireman Community – allowing for smaller groups and a more intimate experience. HSL’s Jack Satter House in Revere is seeking to replicate the program, and McCarthy has received inquiries from programs in Connecticut and Ohio. The team will be presenting this spring at conferences sponsored by the American Society on Aging, Generations United, and Sigma Theta Tau, which is the honor society for nurses.
“We hope that others across the country will consider implementing this model, or taking what we’ve learned and creating their own collaborative program,” says McCarthy.
Download the training manual from our website, where you can also view a video and hear first-hand from student and senior participants.