Advanced practice nurses who are qualified to assess and manage the health care of older adults are in dramatically short supply statewide. A recent study revealed that only five such nursing specialists were practicing in all the medically underserved areas of South Texas combined.
That's why a new grant awarded to the School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) is so important. The three-year, $809,689 award from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration is funding the school's first Gerontological Nurse Practitioner (GNP) specialty program. Colleen S. Keller, Ph.D., RN, FNP, professor and chair of the department of family nursing care, is the principal investigator.
School of Nursing faculty members are developing the GNP curriculum, and the first classes will begin in the spring of 2003. "The GNP major prepares the graduate for an expanded role in assessment and health care management of the healthy older adult through the frail elder," said Dr. Keller, the Thelma and Joe Crow Endowed Professor in the School of Nursing. "The program curriculum emphasizes a multidisciplinary, culturally sensitive, community-based approach focused on patient care outcomes. The GNP curriculum is being developed in conjunction with an outstanding group of experts and a community advisory board that provides direction in recruitment, retention, community support and curriculum content that addresses the specific needs of South Texas."
By 2020, almost one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 or older. The number of elderly people nationwide will double by 2030, reaching an estimated high of 69.4 million. Texas is the nation's second largest state in area and has an estimated population of approximately 20.1 million residents. The Lone Star State ranks fourth in the nation in the number of residents 65 and older, and 14.6 percent live below the poverty level.
"Statewide, only 125 registered nurses hold the classification of Advanced Practice Nurse with a specialty in gerontology," said Janet D. Allan, Ph.D., RN, CS, FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing. "In the medically underserved areas of South Texas, there are only five Gerontological Nurse Practitioners. We are moving forward to meet this challenge."
Upon completion of the program, the graduate will be prepared to offer comprehensive, age-specific primary care that addresses the multiple, complex needs of the older Texan, Dr. Keller said. The School of Nursing will enroll six students in next spring's GNP offerings.