Elder care: New online gerontology certificate program helps healthcare providers serve aging population

Elder care: New online gerontology certificate program helps healthcare providers serve aging population

In December, Pacific conferred its first gerontology certificates to a class of interdisciplinary health professionals. Pacific's first online-only program, the gerontology certification is a spin-off of the School of Occupational Therapy and seeks to improve elder care.

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In December, Pacific University conferred its first set of graduate certificates in gerontology on a class of seven students.

The new program, which launched in September 2010, offers a 15-month, all-online certificate program for working healthcare professionals or graduate students interested in issues of aging.

“Our goal in designing the certificate was to improve the quality of care provided to older adults,” said Linda Hunt, the Pacific professor of occupational therapy who founded the program.

“It amazes me: Older adults are a huge population, and all the healthcare programs have a little content on older adults,” she said. “There is a need for all health professions to be focused on education on aging.”

The gerontology program reaches out to students in Pacific’s College of Health Professions, as well as to working healthcare professionals from across the interdisciplinary realm. The first class included many occupational therapists, as the program has a natural relationship with Pacific’s School of Occupational Therapy through Hunt. It also included professionals in physical therapy, psychology and dental science.

Designed to be interdisciplinary, the program encourages students to work and talk together—digitally, of course—regardless of their specific discipline. It also focuses on practical application. Students are required to complete several projects in their workplaces or in internships that apply their learning and directly benefit aging patients.

Kelly Green started the gerontology program in September 2011 and hopes to complete it in December 2012. Though her background is in chemistry, Green went to nursing school in Oklahoma, hoping to get into a career field where she could make a difference.

“I kind of felt like what I was doing didn’t matter,” she said. “What you do in nursing really matters. Not a day goes by that you don’t go home and feel that you helped someone.”

She and her husband moved to Oregon about two years ago, when she went to work for Legacy Health’s Salmon Creek Medical Center. 

“I deal a lot with elderly people,” she said. “I was looking for a way to get more knowledge that would help me serve them better, better understand their needs and help in their recovery after surgery.”

She said the online program allows her to stay focused on her career while gaining valuable skills. She also said the interdisciplinary approach helps her learn more about the patient experience.

“We play off of each other,” she said. “It gives you a bigger perspective of the problems that maybe an elderly person is facing when you’re exchanging postings and stuff with people coming at it from a different point of view.”

She said she also likes that she’s already putting her learning to work. In her second class—focused on communication—she developed a project to improve instructions for patients being discharged from her hospital, and the system was immediately put in place on her unit.

“I really feel pretty optimistic that I’m learning things that are useful,” she said. “Obviously I’m learning things I can already apply and I’m able to apply them. That’s how you know something’s worthwhile.”