Changing Aging Blog

What It Means To Be Old: An Unexpected Lesson for the First Class of Ecumen Scholars
Date: Jul 16th, 2015 4:15pm


Ben Taylor

Ten student nurses interested in geriatric care recently came to Ecumen Pathstone Living for the inaugural Ecumen Scholars Fellowship Program.  They left with an abiding lesson not taught in nursing school: What it means to be old.

Not only did they observe senior care nurses at work and get to know residents, but they also put on “aging suits” designed to simulate the challenges of growing old.  The lesson had a profound impact.

“We saw the patient’s perspective firsthand,” said Kyle Kessler, a student at MSU-Mankato. “We learned how hard it is for some people to just get out of bed.  It changed my view about the challenges the elderly face.”

Kessler’s sentiments were echoed by the other Ecumen Scholars, who said no matter what they do in their nursing careers, they will be more empathic toward older patients as a result of their experience.

Ecumen started the program last year in partnership with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) with a $1.9 million grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. The fellowship program is part of a larger initiative designed to attract nurses to senior care jobs in rapidly aging rural Minnesota.

In addition to offering clinical rotations and leadership fellowships to nursing students as they train, the program also offers financial incentives to student nurses who later take jobs at Ecumen communities. 

One of the program’s objectives is to counter preconceived notions of what working in nursing homes and assisted living communities is like.  The scholars’ evaluations suggest they left with a far different perspective than when they started.

Kalyn Friedges, a student at Winona State University, said she was impressed that residents clearly consider Pathstone their home and that their caregivers really love their jobs.  “The resident testimonials about their care was so positive, and I heard no negative comments from the people working there.”

In their fellowship evaluations, the scholars overwhelmingly said their favorite experience was learning about the Ecumen Awakenings™ approach to dementia care.  Awakenings is a highly individualized approach to dementia care that emphasizes replacing the use of highly sedating medications and with activities and alternative therapies that calm and engage patients.

“Awakenings was awesome!” said Brianna Dorothy, a student at MSU-Mankato. “It instantly gave me a different outlook.  “The training showed us the importance of all aspects of a client’s care — not just nursing.  All the departments, including dietary and housekeeping, work together as a team to care for people.”

“We hear a lot about patient-centered care in nursing school,” said Emmy Scholtes, a St. Cloud State University student. “We really got to see it in action.  School emphasizes a patients’ physical needs.  Here we got to see how to deal with psycho-social needs.”

Nhgi Vuong, a student at St. Cloud State University who is from Vietnam, said she was impressed that Awakenings combines both Eastern and Western approaches to care.  “I really feel comfortable,” she said.  “If I ever have to go to a nursing home, I would choose Ecumen. It’s really on the leading edge.”

Nkeiruka Ogbonna, a St. Cloud State University student from Nigeria, said she too was impressed with how Awakenings focuses on the individual.  “It’s so important to understand individual and cultural differences,” she said.

As part of their fellowship, the student nurses spent time with Ecumen leaders, learning more about the business side of senior care and about Ecumen’s strategy to change aging. 

“You are in very powerful positions to change the world, especially in senior services,” Ecumen CEO Kathryn Roberts told the students.  Senior services, she explained, is much more nursing-centric than acute care.  “In our world, Directors of Nursing run the care plans,” she said.  “We need more nurses.  We need creativity and independent thought.  We are not set up like little hospitals. We take care of people one by one by one.”

Jody Bloemke, who manages the Ecumen Scholars program, said she was pleased with how the first fellowship class went.  “I know it really made a difference to them,” she said. “They will carry what they learned with them in the future, no matter where they work.  They left with a better appreciation and empathy for the elderly.”

In their final evaluations, all 10 of the scholars rated the program “excellent,” and all 10 said they would recommend the program to others. 

What more information?  Go to the Ecumen Scholars page on the website.



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