Gerontological nursing does not have great appeal to many nurses. I often ask my students at the beginning of each term what area of nursing they see themselves working in. When I mention gerontology, only a few raise their hands. "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." —T.S. Eliot
I officially entered this field when I earned my gerontological nursing certification from the Canadian Nurses Association eight years ago. I had worked in a long-term care setting when I was an undergraduate and did have a fondness for older adults, but it was not until I took my certification exam that I realized how specialized gerontological nursing is. I made it my mission to educate my students, fellow faculty, and clinical colleagues on the needs of older adults. After all, this population is growing exponentially, and there are very few areas of nursing that do not involve care for older adults. Even the small, rural hospital where I worked casually as an RN often admitted older adult patients to available beds in the maternity ward!
When I came across the opportunity to apply for the Gerontological Nursing Leadership Academy (GNLA), I saw it as a means to go from wanting to improve care for older adults through teaching healthcare professionals to finding out how to do this more effectively as a leader. The Academy has a rich history of developing nurse leaders across the United States, and I saw this as a beginning to develop myself, my ideas, and my passion. I was elated to be chosen as a Fellow with the GNLA and soon found out I was the first international candidate.
My excitement quickly turned to anxiety, however, upon attending the first in-person workshop in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, in June 2014. I soon realized this was not just an attend-and-get-a-certificate kind of program. The other GNLA Fellows and I were part of an 18-month program that was intense, goal-oriented, and multifaceted. Like many Fellows, I was unsure how to proceed after the amazing, yet overwhelming, workshop, but my Faculty Advisor, Deb Cleeter, EdD, RN, and my Leadership Mentor, Veronique M. Boscart, PhD, RN, quickly and regularly provided support and guidance that contributed to the success of my project and my development as a leader.
Given a template to work from, based on three areas—individual leadership development, an interprofessional team leadership project, and an expanded scope of influence—I achieved many goals and learned much about leadership and myself as a leader. What made this possible was the feedback, both objective and subjective, that I received from my colleagues, manager, project team, community partners, and even my family. This feedback proved to be especially helpful when I felt unmotivated and unsure.
In total, there were two in-person GNLA workshops, two in-person site visits by my Faculty Advisor, biweekly phone meetings with my Faculty Advisor and Mentor, and regular meetings with project team members, community members, and older adults themselves. I soon noticed that my relationships, both personal and professional, were beginning to positively change as I transformed as a leader.
My GNLA project centered on developing a module within a certificate program offered to healthcare professionals that focused on depression in older adults. I led an interprofessional team of faculty from various college programs. Long-term care community partners as well as older adults assessed the project, which became part of a continuing education course. The project also served as a template for other modules included in the certification program. Seeing this project meet its goals was exciting, but about halfway through the GNLA program, I realized that the project would not be my biggest success. This was just the beginning.
My Mentor, Faculty Advisor, colleagues, students, and family observed changes in me—specifically, improvements in my communication and motivation skills—that I also recognized in myself. I was beginning to transform into an effective leader.
By November 2015, when I attended the biennial convention of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International in Las Vegas, Nevada, I was exhausted and, I must admit, relieved to be done. Yet by the end of that week, I realized once again that this was only the beginning. In Las Vegas, I presented a poster of my work and spoke on a panel about the GNLA experience. I was also able to network, be inspired, and learn even more. I went away happy that I had learned so much about leadership and had become a leader in the care of older adults. But I was also motivated and curious about what else I could do—for older adults, students, and myself.
One of the great nursing leaders, Florence Nightingale, said, “Never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often in such matters the mustard-seed germinates and roots itself.” I have learned so much on my leadership pathway, and the most important thing I’ve learned is to never stop beginning. RNL
Heidi Holmes, MScN, RN, GNC, SANE, is a professor in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Conestoga College in Ontario, Canada.
STTI presented the 2014-15 Gerontological Nursing Leadership Academy in partnership with:
More information about the Gerontological Nursing Leadership Academy (GNLA)