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William F. Connell School of Nursing

International discussion on gerontology and ethics at the Connell School

On September 22, the Connell School was pleased to host an important dialogue about gerontology and ethics with a leader in the UK nursing community.

On September 22, the Connell School was pleased to host an important dialogue about gerontology and ethics with a leader in the UK nursing community. Dr. Derek Sellman is a mental health nurse, editor of the international peer reviewed journal Nursing Philosophy, and faculty member at the School of Health and Social Care at the University of the West of England in Bristol, UK. Researching under the Winston Churchill Travel Fellowhip, Dr. Sellman engaged faculty members and students studying gerontology in a discussion examining nurse preparation for ethical care of the elderly in hospital and residential settings. The focus of his interest has two parts: how nurses in the US are prepared ethically in relation to care of the older person, and whether ethics taught to nurses and in general distinguishes between “normal” and “elderly” adult patients.   


Dr. Sellman engaged each student in conversation, asking what brought her into gerontology. Students spoke about their experiences with palliative care and the misconceptions that still surround the topic, even within the nursing community, as limited to end-of life care. Dr. Sellman talked about the difficulties in deciding who will be best served by care, asking, "Is age a good indicator?" Students responded with examples of patients in their 40s whose quality of life was significantly lower than those in their 80s. All seemed to be in agreement that determining who is deserving of care is generally not about the number of years, that people's lives are beneficial in their own terms at any age.   


Discussion also centered around the nurse's role in supporting families, especially when preparing for death. Associate Dean of Graduate Programs Patricia Tabloski shared a story about caring for an elderly woman who was close to the end of her life. The family informed her that other relatives were planning to fly in for the funeral, to which she responded, "Why don't they come now, while she's here? Have them spend time with her, share stories -- don't wait for the funeral." If family members are able to adopt this attitude, they are more likely to let the loved one go peacefully in an environment surrounded by memories and love, and nurses play a part by offering support to the family members as well as the patient.   


The discussion raised by Dr. Sellman and the Connell School faculty and students was beneficial to everyone involved, and a fascinating opportunity for those in attendance to better understand issues surrounding gerontologic ethics and the approaches taken to teaching them in both the US and the UK.