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Darcy Grabenstein: Hello from SmartLinx Solutions! In today’s podcast, we’ll talk about the aging track in the Rutgers University School of Health Professions. Our guest is Tracy Davis, Program Coordinator. Welcome, Tracy.
Tracy Davis: Thank you.
DG: So as our listeners are likely aware, the long-term care industry suffers from a shortage of workers. That’s an understatement. In addition, the turnover rate is extremely high. On top of this, as the Rutgers website states, “the number of Americans 65 and older will double by mid-century, rising from 39 million today to 89 million in 2050.” To meet this demand, Rutgers University offers two programs to meet the educational needs of healthcare professionals so that they can appropriately care for the aging population. The goal of the Rutgers Aging Studies Concentration is to prepare students with training in healthy living and management of disease in older adults, social policies for older adults, and knowledge resources and skills to effectively care for the ever-growing aging population in our communities and beyond. And it’s so needed.
Tracy, could you first tell us a bit about the online Master's in Health Science and Aging program at Rutgers?
TD: Sure. So the master’s degree in Health Sciences and Aging is a 33-credit online program. We developed a degree and certificate program to meet the needs for well-trained health professionals who understand the issues of the aging population. The core classes provide a foundation in evidence-based research.
Since the aging scale is ever-changing, it’s important for graduates to be able to read and implement the latest research on aging. And in addition to the core classes, our aging track students complete specialized courses in aging and health, and they also have the opportunity to take electives that are in line with their goals. So, for instance, students can take electives in nutrition, mental health, health promotion, or management and leadership, just depending on their interests. And then, finally, full-time students can earn their degree in about 18 months, but for working students we really encourage part-time enrollment.
DG: Got it. So, Tracy, for the master’s degree, students are required to complete a graduate research program. Could you share with us a few of the most interesting projects you’ve seen recently?
TD: Sure. The graduate project is a planned and approved research educational administrative or community service project, where we expect students to apply their graduate experience and achieve some form of tangible outcomes. Most recently I had one student who was interested in emotional and psychological abuse of the elderly, and she was particularly interested in the scales used to measure abuse. So currently most of the scales measure abuse in general, such as financial or physical abuse.
So this student did a literature review to see what tools were out there and that were in use. And she did find one scale that was specifically for psychological abuse in older adults, which is a pretty new tool. But she also made some recommendations about adding questions specifically about psychological abuse to the existing tool. Psychological abuse is perhaps not as easily assessed as financial or physical abuse, but the impact is pretty severe. And this student was very successful with her project and wanted to go on and become a long-term care administrator, and I think she’ll be very successful in that.
DG: I think so too.
TD: Yeah. I have another student who’s just about ready to begin his project and he’s really interested in tai chi and health benefits for seniors. And he currently works in a cardiac clinic, so he wants to combine his interest in tai chi and cardiac health. So we’ve talked about him doing a small-scale research project for tai chi for older adults.
DG: Oh very cool. So just the other day we spoke to some other of your colleagues at Rutgers about exercise in the older population, and tai chi was one of the different types of exercise that was mentioned. So if our listeners are interested in that, they can also listen to that podcast.
TD: Yeah, it’s a great tie-in.
DG: So getting back to your programs, I have a question. How does the Graduate Certificate in Aging program differ from the master’s program? I assume it’s geared for working professionals, and how long does that program take to complete?
TD: The Graduate Certificate in Aging is different from the master’s in that it’s shorter and that it’s designed for working healthcare professionals who want to develop or either expand their skill set to work with the aging population. So it’s a 15-credit program, the coursework can be done at times that are best for the professional, and there is no graduate project. The time needed to complete the certificate really depends on the student and how much time they can dedicate to the program. It can be done in as little as two semesters or up to about two years. So if the student is in the certificate program and then they decide they want a degree like our master’s degree, then they can transfer their credits into our Aging program or any number of programs here at SHP.
DG: That’s great. So these programs are online, so our listeners can take advantage of them wherever they are.
TD: Yes, we have students all over, in United States and further.
DG: Oh wow. So core courses in the certificate program include Approaches to the Older Adult, and Social and Healthcare Policy for the Older Adult. Could you give our listeners an idea of what they could expect in these types of courses?
TD: Sure. The core classes for the certificate and master’s, and actually for our bachelor’s too, are the same, just we kind of vary assignments based on educational level. So the Approaches to the Older Adult, that’s really like our introductory aging course. So we introduce issues relating to aging and healthcare for older adults, so our students have a broader understanding of the aging process. We look at implications of the graying of America and then we include physiological and psychological aspects, as well as some theories in communication strategies.
And then the other class that you mentioned is Social and Healthcare Policy. That course provides an overview of both social and healthcare policy as they pertain to older adults. We cover the evolution of relevant government legislation and administrative policy, and then how the current regulatory climate impacts older adults. So one of the assignments in this class is to have the students select a news article or a research article and present that, because we’re living in an ever-changing governmental climate. We also talk about things like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, things like that. And all the classes, again as we mentioned, are online but they do include online discussions, case studies, some simulation, and community engagement like visiting a nursing home and doing an evaluation.
DG: So it’s very interactive.
TD: Yes, very much so.
DG: So electives in the certificate program include Aging and Psychiatric Rehabilitation, and Health Promotion in Aging. Could you give us a few details about the elective courses?
TD: Sure. Our electives are designed to give students the flexibility to take courses that directly relate to their specific interests. We’re lucky to be a part of a school that has more than 30 degree programs, so we’ve been able to collaborate with other departments in programs here in the School of Health Professions to offer a range of electives. So some examples are: We work with aging and psychiatric rehab, that’s a course and it’s taught by the Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, and that course examines issues facing older adults living with mental illness. Some of the topics they cover are recovery and wellness, evidence-based practices for treatment of mental illness in older adults, talk about goal setting and then comorbidity of psychiatric and physical illness and stigma. And then we also have, as you mentioned, Health Promotion, and that gives a broad overview of health and wellness promotion for older adults. We talk a lot about health behavior change, health promotion theory, as well as clinical preventive services, existing health promotion programs for seniors, specific tools that are used to promote health, and then we also give the students an opportunity to develop their own health promotion program for students. So there’s a lot of different electives. If you’re interested in management and leadership, we have electives in that area. And again, nutrition and a few other areas.
DG: Great, thank you. So I’ve done some work before with executive education and executive MBAs. And I know that, in that case, professionals who are working, their employers help pay for the cost of obtaining a degree or certificate. In the case of your program, do you find that as well? And is it typically full tuition reimbursement or a portion of expenses? And do you find that employers require a contract so that the employee is required to work “x” number of years following obtaining the degree so that they don’t jump ship? What’s your experience with that?
TD: That’s an interesting question, and kind of tough to answer, because everybody has a different experience. But some employers I know do pay for the cost of obtaining a degree. I have a couple students now who are working with their employers to cover the cost. But I don’t know the specifics regarding an amount. I do know that there are requirements regarding the number of courses that they can take at one time, and then they have specific deadlines for grade submission, so I’m assuming they have to maintain a certain GPA. But each employer is different, so again it’s hard to talk about specifics. But it is wonderful that employers are willing to help cover these costs. The demand for training in aging is increasing. But I haven’t heard about any kind of contraction about the length of employment after degree completion or even during. I can’t really speak to that.
DG: Sure. Tracy, if the student isn’t already working in the aging field, where could they look for a career? And where do they fall into your program, because your programs seem to be geared to working professionals, I assume, who are already working in the field? How does that play out?
TD: So the field of aging is wide open. And we do have people who are already working in a healthcare field, and they might just be looking to advance their career in that particular field or maybe even transfer to a different field. So you know, our graduates can work in many different settings as service providers and planners and policy workers. Some of the different settings could be like the Veterans’ Administration, that’s a great place for people who want to do specific program planning or are interested in research or peer coordination. We also have some people who are working in long-term care settings, and sometimes they’re the ones who want to advance their career to more management or whatnot. But they hire program planners, recreational directors, administrators.
And there’s also local county and state agencies on aging, and they have all different types of positions, so senior centers or hospitals. Hospitals now are looking for navigators, specifically elder navigators, because our system is so fragmented seniors need help with coordinating services. And then if policy is of interest, there’s National Institute on Aging, it’s a great place. AARP is tremendous when it comes to policy administration on aging. So there’s many, many areas where health professionals can work or move up in their career in aging if that’s what they’re looking to do.
DG: Great. Well thank you so much, Tracy, for sharing this with us today. Rutgers is actually a neighbor of SmartLinx, not too far away. But the beauty of this is that all your programs are online, so people can take advantage of them wherever they are. And to all our listeners, thank you for tuning in today. For more information on the Aging Track at Rutgers, visit the School of Health Professions. And if you’d like to learn more about SmartLinx and our fully integrated suite of workforce management solutions, visit us online at SmartLinxSolutions.com.