Friday, June 11, 2010

Guest Post: Ageism in nursing, oh my.

Any “older” PhD students out there? This is my latest update in my quest for funding. Enjoy the humor of it all.

As SNL host at the age of 88, Betty White proved she still has it; UConn Coach Calhoun, age 68, is going to get it (5 years and 13 million). So, it is with some cheek that I submit this treatise on aging in the world of academia. I mean, after all it is 2010; but a funny thing happened to me on the way to a fellowship. I am not a victim; I am an unabashed overachiever. I have no apologies for striving for more: more life, more liberty, and more happiness. The happiness for me comes in part from my family, a new “grand” coming in August, my work, my scholarship and my research. My work as a Nurse Practitioner is caring for the vulnerable aging, and the patients, families and communities suffering with dementia. My scholarship and research is from my new road to academia, specifically a Doctorate in Philosophy. My community knows I am striving to be a Doctor-Nurse. I started the PhD curriculum at the wizened age of 50, after an accomplished military career and success in critical care nursing.

I believed I had all the tickets punched, after all, I had been a Commander in the Navy Nurse Corps, ran rings around the residents in the Intensive Care Unit, carried a full academic load, volunteered at professional organizations and helped coach novice YMCA scullers to boot. I developed a program of research. My conceptual framework is nursing theory based, and embraces an achievable comprehensive model to diagnose, treat and support dementia families. I chose incredible advisors, coursework and research projects. I combined my forte of networking with that of grantsmanship principles for a pre-doctoral scholarship application to a prestigious geriatric foundation. I personally commend any and all candidates for merely completing any submission for scholarships or fellowships. Aging is not for sissies and neither is the arduous grant application process. But, I digress.

The upshot: the review board did not select me. My personal failure was not that I submitted an inadequate, sloppy or mediocre package. No seriously, the critical factor I failed was my age; I wasn’t five or ten years younger. That word trickled down to me from conflicted reviewers, who just about whispered the secret, fearful of backlash. When I called the chair and board on it, they didn’t deny it. And what I have since realized is that some people think I am being too dramatic (oh really!); it is only a trivial infraction (really? really?); the board practices in a utilitarian manner (really.); if you fuss, you are burning bridges (so, really.); and, get over it (reeeally!). So be it. But I love a cause and the dialog is good substance for my journaling (and sharing with you). Again, I digress.

Ironic, isn’t it, that in a geriatric rich field of clinicians, educators and researchers, we too have to deal with ageism? We, as nurses, are challenged to think outside the box, tasked to see every person as an individual, and make meaning from each unique experience. We are bound to principles of ethics, honesty and parity. President Obama remarks that in healthcare we need to make difficult choices for stewardship and it’s about odd-ratios and gambling with money versus long odds for a potentially small payout. I counter that we do need to make difficult choices, but we need to be inclusive, culturally competent, and see the individual as just that, an authentic individual.

I was eager to bond with that geriatric foundation because of their superb alumni, their critical acclaim of success, and a shot at professional connection to awesome role models, which naively I thought to demonstrate in my own career. Their stipend would help… hey I have a mortgage payment and financial commitments too! So did the foundation fail me? No, they were playing the odds… and life can be unfair. It is so apt (and LOL), that while I suffer the blues from premature aging, we are deciding a new Supreme Court Judge who will most likely rule until they are 85. So, anyhoo, I am not part of the club, but I am on to other fruitful endeavors and challenges.

But, I would add in conclusion, the foundation is underachieving. It dismisses hardy candidates, clings to unwritten antiquated rules, has cautious agendas and devalues precious assets. It is what it is: ageism. My final salvo: Read the literature and let’s address this head-on, because in our profession when the average nurse age is 47, age discrimination affects hiring, promotion, retention, academia, tenure, research grant money, and fellowships. Oh, and by the way, to the scholarship selection reviewers and advisory board: remember each year I get older, you do too.

Now I’m done… really.

This is just my opinion, I may be wrong (nod to Dennis Miller’s rants). Go Huskies Coach Calhoun. Betty White, you rock.

Living the dream. Elle

Guest post submitted by Elle who blogs at Doctor-Nurse (PhD:o)

Submit a guest post: anpview at gmail dot com.

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