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Boston College

Connell School of Nursing

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Nursing Students: Our Perspective on Working with the Older Adult

By: Melanie Chang, CSON 2013 & Dr. Stacey Barone, PhD, RN, APN

The continuous journey to figure out which part of the nursing field we would like to pursue is a constant thought running through our minds as students in the Connell School of Nursing. Do I want to work with children? Would I be able to handle the pressures of the emergency room? However, according to Happell and Broker (2001), only 1.9% of undergraduate student nurses identify working with the older adult as their first career choice.

So why are students more likely to shy away from working with the older adult population? The preconceived notions about older adults may be one reason why many young nurses are deterred from choosing such careers, thus creating a misalignment with the growing older adult population (Cozort, 2008).

Since the older adult population, defined as age 65 and older, has increased by 4.5 million since 1998, the demand for skilled nurses adept to caring for this unique group is augmenting (Profile of Older Americans, 2009). After a thorough literature review, it is clear that nursing students who possess pertinent specialty knowledge and have positive attitudes towards working with the older adult cohort, often influenced by positive clinical experiences, provide more effective patient care.

Based on these literature findings, we will conduct a study to assess the impact of the Boston College undergraduate nursing curriculum on students' attitudes toward and knowledge about working with the older adult population. This cross-sectional design will assess and compare two groups of students, all second semester undergraduate freshmen and all second semester undergraduate seniors. We hypothesize that senior undergraduate nursing students, whom have had over two and a half years of exposure to the nursing curriculum and clinical content related to working with older adults, will report more positive attitudes and increased knowledge about working with this cohort than their freshmen counterparts, whom have had a minimal amount of exposure to the same.

Each student will be distributed two quantitative instruments: the Palmore Facts on Aging Quiz and Kogan's Attitudes Toward Old People Scale, to anonymously analyze their perspective and knowledge about the older adult. To further assist with the research, demographic and qualitative data will also be collected from each student to be considered in the data analysis.

Analyzing the results of this study will ideally provide themes and trends as to what BC nursing students think about the older adult and why they would or would not choose to work with this population. The study will give way to a better understanding as to how the Boston College undergraduate nursing curriculum is impacting its students' attitudes toward and knowledge about the older adult population. We already know that nurses' outlooks regarding their patients affect the care given, so assessing these viewpoints is the first step to providing optimal care of the person as a whole.


Cozort, R.W., (2008). Student nurses' attitudes regarding older adults: Strategies for fostering improvement through academia. Teaching and Learning in Nursing (3), 21-25.

Happell, B. & Broker, J. (2001). Who will look after my grandmother? Attitudes of student nurses toward the care of older adults. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 27(12), 12-17.

Profile of Older Americans: 2009. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.