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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Care of the Older Adult

profile: stacey barone promotes improved care through curriculum change

By Joshua J. Jensen  |  Photograph by Gary Wayne Gilbert

The Winter 2010 issue of Boston College Magazine features Connell School assistant clinical professor Stacey Barone and her work with undergraduate nursing students as they navigate the clinical setting. Here, the Voice spotlights Barone’s collaboration with clinical instructor Heather Vallent in developing the undergraduate curriculum to better address older adult care.


Stacey Barone teaches Katherine Kim to use the Omnicell medication dispension system at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

According to the Hartford Foundation, older adults constitute the “core business” of health care providers, utilizing more health care resources than any other age group. Furthermore, as the population ages and people live longer, this dynamic will only increase. Yet according to clinical assistant professor Stacey Barone, incoming freshmen at Boston College don’t often envision themselves working with this population. “One of the consistent things I hear from students is a strong desire to work in pediatric nursing. I understand the natural attraction to working with children, but that doesn’t explain the hesitancy about working with older adults,” Barone says.

This sparked Barone’s interest in finding ways to make working with older adults more attractive to her students. This past summer, Barone and clinical instructor Heather Vallent were awarded a grant to participate in a three-day conference presented by the Geriatric Nursing Education Forum. Barone and Vallent are working to integrate content about the older adult into the Connell School’s undergraduate curriculum. At the conference, they analyzed the curriculum across nearly a dozen focused heath concerns flagged as areas of high risk for older adults.

Information from the conference is helping Barone reframe the way she talks about this work. “It was interesting to hear that in the settings students are drawn to—intensive care units, emergency rooms, transplant units, operating rooms—60–70 percent of the patients they will see are older adults.” By sharing these kinds of statistics with her students, and debunking myths such as older adult care happening only in nursing homes, Barone is making the case that knowledge about older adults is critical if students hope to be successful in the roles they seek after graduation.

Barone also sees strengthening the curriculum as a key piece of giving students the level of confidence they need to pursue work with older adults. After all, the work is often more complex than work with younger people due to many co-morbidities within this age group. She notes, “The care is actually quite tricky, and it takes a masterful nurse to be able to do a good job when caring for the older adult. A patient in his or her seventies might come in complaining of chest pain, but may also be diabetic and have a history of hypertension. The patient may already be on a series of medications for cardiac disease. These confounding variables make for a much more complex picture for the nurse to manage.”

To help support student learning, Barone is launching an online resource for all Connell School faculty to use as they strengthen their course content. The website contains a wealth of information, including PowerPoint slides, video, and case studies that faculty can easily integrate into their courses. Barone does not see this tool as the end of the process, however. “The critical piece will be to focus on the content of each course, and guide each individual faculty member to appropriate resources.”

While Barone and Vallent’s work has just begun, they are eager to begin measuring the impact of their efforts. As part of her evaluation plan, Barone will look at both faculty and student changes through a number of lenses. “It will be up to individual faculty members to make improvements. But with the work ethic and the knowledge base of our faculty, I have no doubt that changes will happen, and that they will translate to even greater success for our students.”

Read the article about Barone and her students in the Boston College Magazine »