Dec. 10, 2020

Nurses specializing in senior care find graduate certificates a flexible option toward MN degree

Three nurses share how their jobs and school aligned as they took UCalgary Nursing's Contemporary Topics in Aging certificate while working during a pandemic
Contemporary Topics in Aging Stackable Certificate
Contemporary Topics in Aging Stackable

During a year where the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the health-care system in unprecedented ways, an unfortunate but necessary result has been that issues in senior care, and particularly in long-term care, have been put into the spotlight.  

For the first cohort of students who took the Contemporary Topics in Aging Graduate Certificate at the Faculty of Nursing, doing their graduate studies while simultaneously working the frontlines in the pandemic presented a unique opportunity where they could tailor their coursework, discussions and focus to timely issues they were experiencing at work.

  • Pictured above: Instructors and first cohort of students in the Contemporary Topics in Aging graduate certificate in 2019. 

“This certificate offers a way to reflect on and improve your individual practice and a way of empowering yourself to think about what works in your system and how you might change that for the betterment of caring for older adults,” says Dr. Lorraine Venturato (PhD), associate professor and team lead for the aging certificate.

The first cohort of students were nurses and health-care professionals, most of who continued to work while studying. Venturato says students found employment, received promotions, and started new jobs while in the program.

“We’ve got people from acute care, home and community care, Health Link and long-term care,” says Venturato. “They come from a variety of areas. Really, unless you’re working in paediatrics or midwifery, chances are, any area that you are working in, you’re dealing with primarily older adults.”

Contemporary Topics in Aging Zoom

Clinical nurse educator lauds flexibility of distance learning 

In her current role as clinical nurse educator on the Rural Clinical Education team of Central Zone with Alberta Health Services, Susan Anning, BN’97, provides education to long-term care, home care and acute care staff on everything from how to start IVs to palliative care, dementia care and wound care. She currently lives in Red Deer and is married with two teenagers.

Anning says she'd been investigating various master’s programs for years but was hesitant about moving to a city to do so and wasn’t sold on any other distance programs she had found.

“When I saw this, there were three things that appealed to me: one, that it was distance education, two that it was U of C because I was familiar with the university and nursing department and the stellar reputation of the nursing faculty but the clincher was three, the stackable component,” she says. Anning is a UCalgary alumni who graduated in 1997 in the first class of the Calgary Conjoint Nursing program. 

Susan Anning, BN'97

Susan Anning, BN'97

RN says program fulfills 20-year goal of doing masters’ degree

The flexible online delivery format of the stackable certificate program is something that Deanne David, a Senior Services RN who works for the Calgary West Central Primary Care Network, agrees was a huge draw for her.

As a two-time cancer survivor, David has some damage to her peripheral vision, meaning she cannot drive. “For someone like me, that’s another huge perk to be able to do this stackable program with my physical disability,” she says.

David says pursuing her master’s this way is fulfilling a goal she’s had for 20 years. “It’s formalizing all the things I’m already doing — patient-centred care and evidence-informed practice. It’s what I had been doing all along, I just didn’t have the labels for it. It’s reassuring for me that I’m on the right track.”

While she admits at first it was intimidating to return to school as a mature student, and a big commitment, David says it's all been doable as she works Monday to Thursdays from home. “It is such a small group and we’re all supporting and encouraging one another. There’s no competitiveness.”

Deanne David

Deanne David

Courses have real world-application

As a tele-triage nurse for Health Link, Katie Kirschner says she was most thankful for the support and understanding of her professors, who were available and accessible for consultation and feedback, something that was paramount during the early days as everyone pivoted to respond to COVID-19 in the spring.

“We have been extremely busy through COVID-19 so it’s an adjustment balancing school with the increased demands at work and my desire to serve my community with my nursing skills during such a stressful time,” says Kirschner. "They have been so respectful of the fact that we are adult learners that all have careers and other life demands. You do work at your own pace and you have your deadlines set out ahead of time.”

Last year, Kirschner moved to Calgary from Fort McMurray to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Calgary. While her original plan had been to apply to the traditional course-based master’s program, she shifted after learning about the stackable certificate at an info booth at the Gerontological Nursing Association Conference in 2019. 

“I was still trying to figure out how to go back to school full-time, while not being able to work and budget that in,” she says, adding that the flexible laddered certificate was a better fit having been out of school for almost 10 years. “This way, I could still work and it was still manageable and I could focus on areas I was passionate about.”

She already plans on taking the Leadership in Health System Transformation certificate next year.

Katie Kirschner

Katie Kirschner

First cohort’s final projects tackled COVID responses in all areas of healthcare

For their fourth course of the aging certificate, students complete a practice demonstration project which for this first cohort occurred in the spring/summer as COVID was hitting. Venturato says many students changed their projects to respond to what was happening in their respective workplaces.

“Most of the issues that students identified having, actually related more to the way services were delivered or the way things were structured,” says Venturato.

David chose to explore why there aren’t more nurses on the senior services team using the telemedicine system, although virtual care was established before the COVID pandemic. “I know people who are well into their 80s who are very comfortable with technology where we could absolutely offer it to them and we’re not. I wanted to understand why.”

Kirschner opted to explore closing the loop around the reporting of Health Link calls back to family physicians for older adult callers so they were aware of their patients’ concerns and what they were being advised for follow up care.

Anning chose to focus her project around Advance Care Planning and Goals of Care after noticing how there was high proportion of residents in long-term care sites choosing full resuscitation  — a challenge normally for older patients but especially so during COVID.

After she completed the aging certificate, Anning moved onto the Innovations in Teaching and Learning certificate — her goal is to complete her full master’s degree in three years this way.

“It’s given me new life in my career. In my mid-40s, it’s given me direction and purpose and something to be really excited about,” she says. “I think this is a great idea for people like me who want to pursue further education but don’t want to quit their jobs and move to the city for two years.”

“I can see huge benefits for a lot of nurses, not just in Alberta but country-wide, when it comes to this program.”

The Graduate Certificate program is offered through UCalgary Nursing’s Graduate Programs Office and is designed to provide advanced nursing practice knowledge and practical experience for registered nurses who wish to acquire specialized skills.