Monday, August 24, 2009

Working With Older Adults

One of my soap boxes, as anyone who knows me will tell you, is that there aren't enough people specializing in aging issues, whether they are social workers, doctors, or even home builders. Over the years I've been to a lot of seminars lamenting this fact; I've even given a few of those seminars.

Go into any social work/nursing/medical school class and ask students what they plan to specialize in, and almost unanimously the answer is families/children/pediatrics/babies. I have yet speak to any class of college students where someone admits they want to work with older adults.

And I was the same way when I was in graduate school. I was going to work with teenagers, and my first job out of graduate school was with Child Protective Services. The strange thing is, I'm not a "kid" person, and never have been.

My colleagues and I have all tried to figure out how we can make working with older adults more appealing, going so far as to offer paid stipends to social work interns, with some limited success. The research that has been done on the subject has shown that students who have had positive experiences with older adults are more likely to consider working with older adults. So I was intrigued to read this article in the New York Times today.

It's about a program where medical students actually live in a nursing home for a short period of time. The students are given a "diagnosis" and they are expected to receive care just as if they actually had the diagnosis. The students interviewed for the piece talked about how they came away with a much better understanding of the needs and experiences of nursing home residents, but they also feel they interact differently with all patients.

This sounds like a unique program, and one that would benefit all kinds of health care professionals and students.

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