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A for attitude

Instilling future nurses with a positive attitude towards working with the elderly.

Encouraging student nurses to critically reflect on their attitudes towards older people is one way in which Dr Sharyn Hunter is having a positive impact on the nursing workforce of tomorrow.

Hunter, from the Faculty of Health at the University of Newcastle, has married her nursing experience in aged care with her research work and devised an innovative program that is transforming students’ attitudes to caring for the elderly.

“The first barrier to overcome is some of the students’ attitudes towards caring for older patients. I ask them to reflect on the thoughts they might have about older people and we then work together to replace these with more positive views of seniors,” Hunter says.

“The course focuses on student-based learning and aims to foster a positive attitude toward caring for older patients. With my clinical background, I talk to the students about real older people and present them authentic clinical situations.”

Hunter approached this program, inspired by her clinical experience and her PhD in 2000 looking at the role of registered nurses in aged care.

“Aged care nursing needs new blood. Registered nurses in the sector are getting older, and often they’re set in their ways. When I went back to university I was really keen to excite nursing students about what caring for older people is all about and the value of that work,” she says.

Hunter says some nursing students could be reluctant to work with seniors due to misinformed stereotypes and this was causing a service gap in the continuum of health care.

“Often they do it unwittingly. They don’t consciously go about having an ageist view. My approach is to challenge those commonly-held views. We have the discussion about what society generally thinks about older people and how it treats them. What do the students think? Are those views appropriate? What’s life like for older people in modern society?

“We discuss ageing also. In one of my first classes I brought in a photograph of two older women; one in a wheelchair, the other standing. I asked the students which woman was older. Most said they thought it was the woman in the wheelchair. That brought about a conversation on ageing. The problem is we don’t age at the same rate. The women could potentially be the same age,” she says.

Hunter says that, after 10 years of working with older people, she can no longer predict age. The opportunities associated with healthy ageing, the impact of lifestyle, IT and good healthcare has changed the playing field.

The response to Hunter’s innovative and challenging approach has been encouraging.
Often students report that before taking the class, they didn’t know what to expect.

Soon, however, they say they enjoy the class and the discussions. And they say it had a positive impact on helping them think about older people in new ways.

“It’s about preparing students with the right skills mix, and knowledge and attitudes. It’s about encouraging them to look at older people as individuals, and assess and care for them that way. To really think about what ageing is and to spend time on that. To foster passion and dedication; to ensure they have a meaningful approach.

“There’s a lot of best practice information emerging, but often it takes a while to disseminate across the industry. I tell my students I see them as change agents. We’re giving them the knowledge pool and when they graduate and go out into the workforce they bring new skills and new approaches which will benefit everyone,” Hunter says.

The response to Hunter’s teaching methods from both students and colleagues has been so positive that her teachings have been incorporated into national registered nurses training.

She was also recently awarded a citation from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) for outstanding contribution to student learning.

An outstanding effort

Along with Dr Sharyn Hunter, there were a number of educators recognised by ALTC for making an outstanding contribution to student learning in the field of nursing. They include:

Alison Blair – Australian Catholic University
Alison Blair has been a leader in the development of online learning at the Australian Catholic University for 15 years, initially as online education coordinator and, more recently, as a faculty e-learning coordinator. An innovator in online resources for nursing, Blair has been instrumental in the introduction of learning management systems and in staff development to initiate, expand and sustain quality online education.

Prue Andrus – Murdoch University
Prue Andrus is a lecturer in nursing and began teaching at Murdoch University in 2006, since then she has coordinated undergraduate nursing units in the bachelor of nursing. Andrus considers teaching the next generation of nurses a privilege and engages the student nurse through her clinical experience, being cognisant of industry standards and utilising contemporary learning approaches. The simulation exercises incorporated into her lectures promote thinking critically and working within a team to deliver essential life saving care.

Professor Patsy Yates – Queensland University of Technology
Patsy Yates received her citation for developing learner and patient-centred approaches that prepare nurses to make positive contributions to improving health outcomes for our community. She has led the development of nationally agreed standards for nursing and the design of authentic learning experiences that are centred on patient journeys. These learning experiences encourage learners to analyse and apply evidence to improve a person’s illness experience and acknowledge that learners’ personal experiences and values shape their professional practice.

Michelle Kelly – University of Technology Sydney
Michelle Kelly’s knowledge and experience has been central to the development of new, purpose-built learning spaces to enable engaged, powerful learning experiences for students. Through active participation in authentic scenarios, students rehearse technical skills on ‘patients’ (sophisticated life-like manikins) and realise the practical application of theoretical constructs. Students gain memorable learning experiences and a heightened awareness of safe practice, team work and communication.

Professor Margaret McAllister – University of the Sunshine Coast
Selling in more than 24 countries, Margaret McAllister’s book, Solution Focused Nursing is an innovative and internationally recognised model for student learning that develops high level caring skills. McAllister coordinates and teaches groups of postgraduate students; guest lectures to undergraduates; and gives keynote addresses to nursing educators all over the world. A highly accomplished nursing and education scholar, she keenly develops curriculum material that propels a progressive, solution-focused nursing model.

Dr Sharon Andrew – University of Western Sydney
Sharon Andrew has developed sustained, innovative strategies to support the diverse teaching and learning needs of nursing students at all levels using an evidence-based approach. She has conducted multiple educational projects and implemented her findings to bridge the research-teaching nexus and improve student outcomes. This educational research includes the critical areas of attrition and retention; academic engagement and numeracy and research skills in nursing. Andrew’s work has garnered national and international recognition.

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