Bringing Gerontology Education to Allied Health Students
Glista, Sandra, Petersons, Maija, Journal of Allied Health
A CRITICAL NEED EXISTS for more allied health personnel with special competencies for serving older persons within well-coordinated interdisciplinary teams. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects much faster than average growth in employment for allied health workers between 1998 and 2008, higher than for nursing or any other group of health professionals.1 In the Ninth Report to Congress, Tise2 stated:
The projected rapid growth for allied health care workers is based largely on expectations that new technologies, new equipment, and a growing and aging population will continue to create additional demand for health care services and workers. It is expected that those advances, while they save lives and prevent disabilities, will leave many patients with extensive rehabilitative needs.... Probably the greatest contributor to demand, however will be sheer population growth, particularly among the aged, who are more likely to have acute and chronic health problems.
Despite this recognized need to be prepared to serve an aging population, many allied health students are enrolled in programs already filled with discipline-specific curriculum, which leaves no time to elect gerontology course work. Additionally, applied clinical education may or may not include systematic practicum experiences with older and aging adults. The need for revision of current curricula and clinical teaching practices is apparent.
Allied health students completing clinical training also need to be placed in model practicum sites with master clinicians who have significant experience serving older adults. Many off-campus clinical supervisors or field faculty recognize their own lack of formal educational preparation in gerontology. In a continuing education needs survey of 214 practitioners representing 12 allied health disciplines, 76% reported having fewer than 30 contact hours or no gerontology education while preparing for their career. All expressed a need for their own continuing education in gerontology.3 At the same time, respondents explained how access to continuing education was difficult for most of them because of restricted time available away from work obligations and limited allowance to fund professional development activities.
Alliance for Gerontology Education
Project AGE: Alliance for Gerontology Education was conceived as a solution to the above-described problems. Project AGE, a personnel preparation project to provide allied health students with the competencies needed to serve elderly people, has been supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resource Service Administration (#DH 37 AH 00649-03). It provides a discipline-specific curriculum infusion model, thematic interdisciplinary-practice modules, and practicum-- site interdisciplinary partnerships that show successful inclusion of life-span development issues. The project was designed to achieve the following objectives: (1) infuse gerontology content into audiology, blind rehabilitation, community health education, dental hygiene, dietetics, exercise science, occupational therapy, recreation, and speech pathology courses; (2) develop interdisciplinary practica; and (3) provide allied health continuing education.
Project AGE grew out of the Western Michigan University (WMU) Committee on Interdisciplinary Gerontology Education. This group comprised faculty from WMU and other colleges and universities and community health professionals practicing in gerontology. Committee members included representatives from all allied health disciplines and faculty members from departments of sociology, counselor education and counseling psychology, nursing, physician assistant, and social work. Community practitioners from long-term care, public health, and assisted living centers also were participants. Meeting with the support of the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services and through deliberations over a period of more than 1 year, the committee conceptualized the Project AGE goals that would permit enrichment of allied health curricula and enhancement of teaching practices to provide gerontology content and teach skills for working with older adults. …