It is no secret that the number of healthcare professionals needed for the tsunami of baby boomers is far from adequate. The recently released Facts and Figures from the Alzheimer’s Association states that there are currently less than 1% of registered nurses, physician assistants, and pharmacists who confirm that they specialize in geriatrics. Geriatricians already operate at a ratio of 1 for every 2,500 Americans, and that is expected to double to 1 for every 5,000 in a little over a decade.
A new and innovative nursing residency program at Rutgers, believed to be the first of its kind, will encourage nursing students to work in non-hospital settings such as skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation centers, home care and other geriatric settings. This provides a very valuable clinical education for nurses, many who will likely end up working with older adults regardless of the healthcare settings they choose.
The changes in demographics and healthcare delivery initiatives demand more geriatric education and expertise along the continuum as well as transitional care. Historically, nursing education and clinical experiences have been in acute, hospital based care organizations. However, as more and more care is provided outside of the walls of the acute care institutions, nursing students need to understand and experience the unique needs of other health service providers and settings.
There is a great need for enthusiastic, competent, compassionate nurses for these non-hospital settings and to understand it is a “different world.” Goals, care, priorities, support systems and expectations for nursing are different in every setting. This unique initiative is an opportunity for faculty to prepare nurses for what they will experience and the skills required. Hopefully the experience will raise the level of interest in working in these non-hospital sites as most nursing jobs in the future will be in these in the community.
The clinical, hands-on involvement of this program is significant and will enable nurses to be far more comfortable and successful in these alternative settings. They will have a greater sense of the work, scope of practice and performance expectations. Congratulations to Rutgers, whose insight is inspiring and hopefully will prove the impetus to more community-focused nursing education.