Academic journal article Nursing Education Perspectives

Advancing Our Nation's Health: Caring for Our Aging Population

Academic journal article Nursing Education Perspectives

Advancing Our Nation's Health: Caring for Our Aging Population

Article excerpt

I CLEARLY REMEMBER MY FIRST PATIENT ASSIGNMENT. I WAS A FRESHMAN NURSING STUDENT IN MY SECOND SEMESTER. In the fall, we had learned how to take vital signs, perform basic nursing care skills, and engage in therapeutic communication. So, on the morning of my first assignment, I arrived at the nursing home - a common first clinical experience for students in the early 1970s - nervous and excited to be providing care to a real-live patient. The goal was to allow students to provide basic patient care in an environment less complex than the acute care setting. The focus was not on the specialized care needs of the older adult.

Upon meeting my patient, I quickly realized that I was not prepared for the challenges I faced. My patient was an elderly woman in the advanced stages of a degenerative disorder that had lefther bedridden. She had extensive contractures, making it almost impossible to accurately position a blood pressure cuffand stethoscope, at least in my inexperienced hands. Until then, I had only taken blood pressures on healthy classmates who could extend their arms when asked to do so. Needless to say, the other "basic" care that I was assigned to provide - feeding, bathing, positioning, and bed-making - were tasks that required much adaptation to deliver safely and comfortably. To make matters more challenging, my patient was not able to communicate verbally. She would laugh, cry, or become angry as I cared for her, exhibiting all of these emotions in a matter of minutes. I was too inexperienced to realize that her labile emotions were, in part, related to her disorder. I leftthe facility feeling overwhelmed with the experience, but relieved that I had completed my assignment and leftmy patient clean, fed, and safe.

Looking back, I know that while I provided safe care and met my patient's basic needs, I lacked the knowledge, skills, and values formation to comprehend her needs as an elderly patient with a complex chronic health condition. My first experience in caring for an older adult lefta mixed impression on me as a young professional, one that was not entirely accurate.

How many of you had similar experiences with caring for the elderly in your own nursing education? How many of our current students can cite similar experiences?

Let's flash forward to today's health care environment and the experiences students currently have in providing care to the elderly. …

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