Reprinted from Priority, University of Oklahoma Foundation
The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is changing the face of aging in Oklahoma through continued support of a groundbreaking OU College of Nursing program.
Since 2008, the foundation has committed $4.98 million to the Donald W. Reynolds Center of Geriatrics Nursing Excellence. The center was established to tackle the reality that America’s population is rapidly aging amidst a critical nursing shortage. A lack of qualified faculty is at the crux of the inability to train sufficient nurses; in 2014, more than 8,000 applicants were turned away from nursing colleges nationwide due to faculty shortages.
The Reynolds Center addresses this problem by funding doctoral students who will become highly qualified faculty members in geriatrics. “We wanted to address the root cause,” said Rani Snyder, program director for the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. “This strategy supports the development of a large and diverse group of faculty committed to long-term careers in teaching who will prepare the next generation of nurses to care for our aging population.”
“Clearly, Oklahoma is in desperate need of nurses right now in hospitals, in clinics, in home-care agencies, and this is one extraordinary way to move future nursing faculty quickly through the pipeline,” said OU College of Nursing Dean Lazelle Benefield. She added that the Reynolds Center is one of only 10 centers of Geriatric Nursing Excellence in the United States and the sole nursing initiative funded by the Reynolds Foundation.
Two Reynolds Predoctoral Scholarships are awarded annually, giving candidates the freedom to focus on their studies while “pulling back” from full-time jobs in nursing. Reynolds Scholars attend national meetings and are paired with a mentor actively involved in geriatrics research. Currently, Reynolds Scholars are exploring such topics as financial exploitation of seniors and strategies to maintain physical balance and mobility.
Reynolds Scholar Diana Sturdevant of McAlester is researching the “culture change” movement in long-term care, which encourages nursing home residents to control their daily schedules rather than follow institutional routines. Sturdevant, a 30-year geriatrics nursing veteran and 2007 OU nursing master’s graduate, said the Reynolds program has clarified her career mission and fostered an interest in forming policy change.
“The mentorship, support and connections have opened a lot of doors,” she said. “I’ve become more confident in advocating and pushing for what is needed to take care of residents in nursing homes.”
Another primary focus of the Reynolds Center is the movement toward “aging in place,” said Dean Benefield.
“We know that to be able to age in place healthy and with dignity, you have to be able to manage wellness and illness in the preferred environment, which is usually the home,” she explained. “We’re crafting solutions. We must have strategies so people can feel safe, socialize and have good health while aging in place.”
Solutions generated by the Reynolds Center are disseminated throughout the state thanks to the Oklahoma Geriatric Nursing Education Workgroup, which has brought together nursing faculty from 20 different programs to share best practices and educational materials.
“For the science of nursing to be advanced, we need people to sit at the table who are involved in interdisciplinary work and a full member of the team,” said Barbara Holtzclaw, associate dean for research in the College of Nursing. “The role of the nurse-scientist and faculty member is much broader than what we tend to think.”