Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17097 Integrating Gerontology Content Into Interdisciplinary Health Care Education for Social Work, Business Administration, and Public Policy Graduate Students

Friday, January 13, 2012: 3:30 PM
McPherson Square (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Stephen Edward McMillin, MSW, PhD Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: This classroom field report examines challenges and successes in integrating gerontology content into an interdisciplinary graduate health care education program and shares promising practices in mainstreaming aging services and gerontology content into these diverse educational offerings.

Methods: Field report from classroom, seminar, and curriculum planning experiences from January through April 2011 for a master's level graduate course required of social work, business administration, and public policy student fellows in a health policy and administration program.

Results: Successes and promising practices identified include use of: 1) descriptive statistics as a lingua franca to help students from different disciplines see the importance of age variables in most health datasets; 2) online teaching modules from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in which a great deal of gerontology content is already integrated; and, 3) a strengths-based approach in which students took turns leading discussions and were given opportunities to role-play different perspectives including those of older adults. Challenges identified include: 1) relatively little student interest in specific content on aging; 2) physician overrepresentation among both guest lecturers and student seminar participants which tends to “medicalize” course content and minimize time and space for new aging content; and, 3) a relatively large class size which makes seminar discussion of specialized issues such as aging more difficult.

Conclusions and Implications: Student interest in aging content increased and seminar discussion included more aging content when simple descriptive statistics such as Pearson's r correlations, t-tests, and chi square analyses were used to show the statistical significance of age in many different applications. In interdisciplinary contexts that include business administration and public policy students, it may be especially important for social work students to hone and maintain competitive quantitative skills to be able to participate in highly technical discussions of aging issues that rely heavily on or are driven in part by statistics. Large class sizes might be addressed by dividing the course into smaller sections for seminar discussion; one of these seminars might be developed to be topic-specific in gerontology or the structure of aging services. Physician overrepresentation might be minimized by more diverse selection of guest lecturers and avoiding the singling out of physician students; including a gerontologist among the other physician lecturers would also be helpful. Using strengths-based approaches such as student-led discussion that includes role-play also deemphasizes the advanced credentials of some students in favor of communal critical thinking. Role-play is especially helpful in including all students and in encouraging students to consider and even act out potential perspectives of elders and aging services providers. Finally, online teaching modules are helpful in increasing content on aging services because fully half of the modules include explicit gerontology content and one module specializes in interdisciplinary education, paralleling and reinforcing the themes and messages of the course.