Last fall, the National Hartford Centers of Gerontological Nursing Excellence (NHCGNE) welcomed the Connell School of Nursing as one of its newest members, recognizing the school’s commitment to educating nurses for an aging population and advancing gerontology research and policy. A collaboration between the Gerontological Society of America’s Coordinating Center and nursing schools across the country, the NHCGNE seeks to develop faculty, advance nursing science, promote best practices, foster leadership, and design policy that improves nursing care for older adults.

The membership puts the Connell School “in a high-caliber academic community that’s as dedicated as we are to improving care for older people,” says Associate Professor Marie Boltz, who oversaw the school’s complex application to the NHCGNE with Assistant Professor Stewart Bond. Connell is now one of 36 nursing schools chosen to participate in the organization since it launched in 2000 with nine school members.

Boltz foresees the designation opening up collaborative and interdisciplinary research opportunities with other NHCGNE schools for faculty and students at all levels—undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral. It also will provide resources for gerontological curriculum development, she said. The John A. Hartford Foundation, a prominent private philanthropy founded in 1929 to enhance the health of older Americans, donates the majority of NHCGNE’s more than $74 million in funding.

The National Hartford Centers’ membership provides the Connell School with a prestigious endorsement that can be beneficial in admissions and marketing outreach, says Boltz. It may also “shed more light” on gerontology for students who haven’t considered working with older adults, adds Bond. Statistics show that reaching these young nurses is critical, even urgent. Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expects adults age 65 and over to make up 20 percent of the population by 2030, an Institute of Medicine report finds less than one percent of nurses specialize in gerontology.

Boltz and Bond believe that the NCHGNE membership will raise gerontology’s profile at the Connell School. “Students are going to see more coordinated efforts and collaborations among faculty and students around this key demographic,” says Bond. “They’re going to see our expertise but also the opportunities.”

To qualify for membership, a school must demonstrate contributions to gerontological nursing education at the highest levels in research, curricula, and policy. Faculty also must show leadership in gerontology beyond their university, such as appointments at academic medical centers and involvement in professional associations.

Membership in the National Hartford Centers of Gerontological Nursing Excellence will support faculty and student research efforts by allowing “better and easier access to a large network of collaborators.”

—Assistant Professor Stewart Bond

Currently, 13 Connell School faculty members, or about 25 percent, cite geriatric nursing as an area of research or practice specialty, note Boltz and Bond. Four teach in the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program, which enrolls 18 to 21 students per year. Connell School faculty are widely published and represent a wide range of gerontology interests: dementia, palliative care, oral health in older adults, health disparities, chronic illness and disability, and interventions to improve functioning, among others.

Both Boltz and Bond emphasize that membership will not change the direction of the Connell School’s work. Instead, says Bond, “it will build on and enhance it.” For instance, membership will support faculty and student research efforts by allowing “better and easier access to a large network of collaborators,” he explains.

Funding opportunities also will expand. “We’ll have access to interuniversity grants for colleges that work together on aging issues,” says Boltz, adding that this research is often interdisciplinary and therefore of high interest to the Connell School. The NHCGNE offers its own competitive pre- and postdoctoral grants, with preference given to applicants from member schools. In 2014, these fellowships totaled $1.2 million.

Nursing students who are not yet involved with gerontology research—or not focused on gerontology at all—will benefit in other areas, including the undergraduate curriculum. “We’re looking in-depth at ways we can add even more aging content,” says Bond. Already, Connell School faculty have integrated gerontology into the required courses Health Assessment Across the Lifespan and Adult Health Nursing Theory I and II in an effort to introduce the specialty by sophomore year and dispel negative stereotypes about older adults. (Those, studies have found, contribute to the shortage of gerontological nurses.) The Connell School can also consult with NHCGNE directors on program review and teaching resources, and with faculty from member schools.

Boltz noted that member schools receive financial support for the Hartford Foundation’s annual leadership conference and other events to allow for more junior faculty and students to attend. In addition, she says, the Hartford Centers offer webinars on innovative approaches to gerontological education and clinical care issues, such as delirium and oral health. And even the casual undergraduate events that Boltz is planning—brown-bag seminars about attitudes toward aging and opportunities in gerontology, for example—will be promoted with the NHCGNE imprimatur.

As these efforts roll out this year, NHCGNE will provide a high-profile opportunity to affirm the Connell School’s clinical expertise and scholarly achievements in gerontology, explains Boltz. “It’s recognizing our commitment to excellence— our passion, really—for issues of care for older adults.”

—Alicia Potter, photograph by Gary Wayne Gilbert