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A nurse checking on a patient.

Nursing student Sarah Salerquist checks William Barklind's blood pressure while social worker Mary Kollmann observes. Students visit the senior housing complex weekly during the fall semester.

Care for a lifetime

U opens Center for Geriatric Nursing Excellence

By Erin Peterson

March 20, 2008

A nurse in any setting must have a sharp mind and a big heart. A geriatric nurse must also develop a detective's ability to piece together clues to understand a larger puzzle. She or he must be able to tease out symptoms that might signal depression, or earn the trust of a sheepish patient who's embarrassed to talk about incontinence.

That skill set comes not only from experience in the field, but also from a strong curriculum taught by excellent faculty members. With help from a $1 million grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation (and more than $500,000 in matching funds), the School of Nursing has opened the Minnesota Hartford Center for Geriatric Nursing Excellence. The center provides training to faculty who teach geriatric nursing at schools in four states and at tribal colleges across the nation.

Jean Wyman, director of the center, believes these activities are critical to prepare for the future.

"There's a tremendous shortage of nurse faculty, and there are even fewer faculty with a background in geriatric nursing," she says. "With the huge aging population that's already here--and expected to be coming--we have to do a better job of preparing future nurses to care for older adults."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19 million people will be 85 years of age or older in less than 50 years, and geriatric care is important because illnesses in older patients are often more complex than in younger people.

The new center adds to an already impressive array of work on gerontological nursing being done at the University of Minnesota, including Web-based courses, interdisciplinary geriatric education and research, and research and practice done through a network of community partners. The five-year grant serves as a launching pad for the new center; Wyman expects that to sustain the center's work and develop new initiatives well beyond the five-year timeline.

Though the center was designed to help other schools strengthen their nursing programs through faculty development, the University also benefits.

Best of the best

The Minnesota Hartford Center for Geriatric Nursing Excellence is one of nine centers of its kind in the United States. To learn more about the center, see the U's Hartford Center.

The University's gerontological nursing program has long been one of the region's strongest, but the Hartford grant--one of just nine in the country--will provide national visibility to the work being done at the school. Christine Mueller, co-director of the Hartford program, says the initiative will help attract top faculty to the University and make an impact well beyond campus.

"Through the Hartford initiative, the University's School of Nursing will be able to ensure that our curriculum prepares nursing students to be competent and caring for older adults, and we'll have an impact on all schools of nursing in four states and tribal colleges," says Mueller.

And that impact will extend to the thousands of elderly men and women who benefit through longer, healthier, and happier lives.