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UTHealth certificate program offers geriatric nursing training to local nurses

Vaunette Fay, Ph.D.

Vaunette Fay, Ph.D.

HOUSTON - (March 23, 2011) – Houston registered nurse Sandra Thornton has 20 years of experience caring for patients and, like so many in her field, she didn’t have advanced training in the special needs of geriatric patients until recently.

That changed last October when she became part of the first group of Houston-area nurses to enroll in the Geriatric Resource Nurse Continuing Education Program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Nursing. The class will complete the program at the end of this month.

“Over 65 percent of hospital, home care and nursing home residents are over 65 years of age and few nurses have received special education in geriatrics,” said Vaunette Fay, Ph.D., professor of clinical nursing in the Department of Nursing Systems at the UTHealth School of Nursing. The program is part of the School of Nursing’s Center on Aging and was developed to advance geriatric knowledge of registered nurses working across care settings with older adults. The program was designed by Fay with the help of a grant from the Houston Geriatric Education Center, part of UTHealth’s Consortium on Aging.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in 2009 there were 39.6 million adults ages 65 and older. DHHS estimates by 2030, there will be around 72.1 million older adults. The U.S. Census projects older adults will account for 60 percent of patients in general medical hospital units, 80 percent of home care visits and 85 percent of nursing home residents.

“This program has really helped our staff refocus on the specific needs of our aging patients,” says Thornton, who is a nurse manager for one of the medical-surgical units at The Methodist Willowbrook Hospital. “We are able to look at things differently such as preventing patient falls, ways to reduce unnecessary readmissions and share what we’ve learned with the rest of our nursing team.”

Registered nurses for the program are recruited from hospitals in the Texas Medical Center and outlying hospitals, hospice facilities, and home health organizations providing health service in suburban and rural hospitals around Houston

Houston-area nurses enrolled in the program engage in dialogue at a workshop.

Houston-area nurses enrolled in the program engage in dialogue at a workshop.

“We wanted to create a program that would train registered nurses to become leaders and experts in the best geriatric practices so they could take the skills and knowledge gained in the program back to their respective hospitals,” said Fay.

Over a period of six months, participants attend four day-long workshops that include classroom lectures, a simulation skills lab and a clinical/academic project. Nurses can gain up to 40 contact hours of nursing continuing education. The program fee is paid by participants or their employers.

“The program has been a nice bridge for nurses who were once considering going back to school,” said Thornton. “Some of the nurses have enrolled in master’s programs to further their knowledge on some of the topics we’ve discussed.” Topics in the program include sexuality and aging, mental health, elder abuse, malnutrition and ulcer prevention, among others.

Participants are required to complete a small research project in which they address a need they discovered in their unit at their respective hospitals. The project is monitored by clinical mentors from the UTHealth School of Nursing. “Results from their projects can benefit participant’s units at their hospital because they are based on issues seen in the unit,” said Sally Davis, R.N., nurse educator at the UTHealth School of Nursing. Davis hopes the program will give area hospitals reason to allow their nurses to gain the extra skills needed in geriatric care.

For more information on the program, contact Davis at 713-500-2185 or

Jade Waddy
Media Contact: 713-500-3030