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Rutgers University: Caring for America’s Aging Population

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Rutgers' student, Melissa Schmidt with her grandfather, Wilbert Schmidt, at his assisted living facility. Credits: Tiffany Schmidt
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PISCATAWAY, NJ - The older adult segment of the U.S. population is expected to double in the next 25 years, prompting health care providers to reassess how they provide specialized geriatric services.

Recognizing this need, Rutgers School of Health Related Professions (SHRP) has developed three online programs that take a multidisciplinary approach to caring for the physical and mental wellbeing of older Americans: a graduate certificate in aging; a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences degree with a concentration in aging; and a Master of Science in Health Sciences with a concentration in aging.

Tracy Davis, SHRP’s aging track coordinator, says that professionals in health care and policy development can expect increasing interactions with older adults.

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“They need to have a broad understanding of the physiological and psychosocial aspects of the aging process as well as communication strategies, knowledge of emerging policy and sensitivity as to how ethnicity affects perceptions about health care and illness,” Davis says.

The programs – offered online to accommodate working health care professionals – are collaborative with other SHRP departments and emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of geriatric care. Topics include disease management, nutrition, psychiatric rehabilitation, alternative and complementary medicine, and ethical and legal issues.

“Many of the students who have enrolled have found the focus of their jobs shift to those 65 and older and want training in aging issues,” Davis says. “The way we are caring for patients is changing – and fast.”

The programs expand upon the school’s existing coursework in aging. Marta Olander, who recently received a Master of Science in Health Care Management from SHRP, will soon have the chance to apply the skills she learned at SHRP as an assistant administrator at a continuing care retirement facility in Monmouth County. The facility is gearing up to implement a quality improvement program that Olander became familiar with during her graduate work. The program, Interventions to Reduce Acute Care Transfers, detects clinical deterioration of nursing facility residents, helps improve communication between residents and health care providers, and reduces re-hospitalization rates.

“Since population aging is happening rapidly, practitioners need to learn practical skills that they can apply immediately,” Olander says.

The graduate certificate can be completed in two semesters. Full-time students can earn the master’s degree in 18 months; however, for students who are working full-time, part-time enrollment is encouraged.

The solo bachelor’s degree is offered by the SHRP Department of Interdisciplinary Studies for students who have an approved associates’ level of coursework.  For those without an associate’s degree, a joint bachelor’s degree is offered by SHRP Department of Interdisciplinary Studies and Rutgers University-Newark College of Arts and Sciences. Upon completion, the student receives a Bachelor of Science degree, awarded by the School of Health Related Professions. 

Melissa Schmidt of East Windsor enrolled in the master’s program this summer after earning her bachelor’s degree in aging psychology and working for two years at Rutgers in admissions and at the School of Arts and Sciences Writing Program. She decided to focus her career path on health services after watching the interactions between her 87-year-old grandfather and the health care providers at his assisted living facility in Pompton Plains.

“He had a stroke, and it’s a struggle for our family to be there for him all the time. Seeing how the staff steps in to take care of all the nitty gritty details, like making doctors’ appointments, providing transportation and serving nutritious meals, really resonated with me,” Schmidt says.

Schmidt ultimately wants to provide physical and mental health care for people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. “It’s a difficult field because it’s emotionally taxing on the family,” she says. “In the program, I’m learning how to provide integrated care. As a family member of an elderly loved one, I appreciate how this approach can alleviate the stress of all those affected by aging.” 

For more information about the aging programs offered through SHRP Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, contact Tracy Davis at tracy.e.davis@shrp.rutgers.edu or 856-566-2765.

 

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