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Nursing receives grant to focus on senior care

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The University of Calgary's faculty of nursing is off to a promising start this month after receiving a $1.1 million donation from the Brenda Strafford Foundation for a centre of excellence in gerontological nursing. The five-year plan to construct the centre aims to enhance the lives of seniors in long-term care facilities while encouraging nursing students to specialize in senior care, or gerontology.

"The partnership is a really great boost to students because it will allow them the opportunity to explore [gerontological nursing]," said Brenda Strafford Foundation executive vice-president Mario Siciliano. "Nine-tenths of the challenge is having the nursing students become aware of the opportunities and then exploring it through the course of their studies."

The centre, the first of its kind in Canada, will also offer nursing instructors and students more access to residents of the foundation's many long-term care facilities and create more student placements for experimental learning.

Canadian Association on Gerontology president and faculty of nursing associate professor Sandra Hirst explained the program is simply an extension of nursing education in that it will build on nursing students' knowledge and skills.

"It will give [nursing students] a chance to continue to work in their own areas of expertise and strengths," said Hirst, the future director of the new centre. "It will give them a chance to have research involvement in a practical setting."

Faculty of nursing interim dean Dianne Tapp said what is most exciting about the program is its delivery of quality education.

"We're hoping that by having a really positive educational experience in relation to care that more nurses will choose to focus on that earlier in their career," said Tapp. "Nurses are a real critical point of contact for elderly in terms of meeting their health needs. We want nurses to have a lot of confidence and knowledge to prepare them to do that really well."

Tapp added that although the nursing shortage will continue to rise no matter what long-term strategies are in place, the program will be an ongoing success.

"The bottom line is there's not a quick solution to the workforce shortage and the solution is not really about increasing seats but about conserving the practice setting in a positive work environment as well," said Tapp.

Siciliano believes having dedicated nurses in gerontology is important when developing quality long-term care for the aging population.

"I think there's a lot of kudos that would go out to nursing faculty for foresight and commitment to explore this area," said Siciliano. "Money itself won't accomplish anything. It's really the people who have been involved over the long term."

The Brenda Strafford Foundation, founded by the foundation's president and CEO Barrie Strafford, is a non-profit organization that sponsors many long-term care facilities in Canada.

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