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U College of Nursing Program Aims to Help Ease Shortage of Geriatric Nurses as Utah Population Ages

Sept. 3, 2004 — Utah’s shortage of geriatric nurses is the worst in the country, but a new program at the University of Utah College of Nursing aims to remedy that.

The Geriatric Nursing Leadership Program (GNLP), funded with a grant of $498,772 from the Department of Health and Human Services, targets nurses with associate degrees who want to enhance their skills by specializing in geriatric care through a bachelor’s degree or a certificate.

“This program addresses the dire need for qualified nurses in long-term geriatric care,” said Ginny A. Pepper, Ph.D., R.N., program director and professor in the college’s health system and community-based care division.

“By enhancing nurses’ skills, the program will also increase their self-confidence and professional satisfaction and help keep them in the field.

Utah is ranked third in the country in severity of general nursing shortage, but first in vacancy rate in geriatric nursing, Pepper said. The problem is aggravated by the fact that people age 85 and above constitute the fastest growing segment of Utah’s population.

By emphasizing leadership skills, Pepper said the GNLP hopes to develop a pool of highly qualified nurses who can become clinical experts and managers in long-term care facilities and also mentor LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses) and CNAs (Certified Nurse’s Assistants) who already work in nursing homes, hospices, and assisted living facilities, or provide home care.

Pepper and Patricia Berry, Ph.D., APRN, program co-director and assistant professor in the acute and chronic care division, received the two-and-a-half-year grant last fall.

“There’s a perception that geriatric nursing is not as desirable and important as other areas. But that’s just not true because caring for the elderly demands more skills, and therefore it’s more challenging and rewarding,” said Berry.

Course work is done primarily online, but it requires two days of intensive on-campus classes. Students also participate in the Capstone Clinical Program as a final integration course.

The online component of the program is meant to attract nurses who work full-time, especially those in rural areas. “I’m a nurse and a grandmother of seven. I need flexibility,” said Candace Kirsner, R.N., who’s among nine students presently enrolled. For nurses interested in the program, call (801) 585-7028.