Originally written for The Northern Light.
As the Alaska population fluctuates, the population of older citizens will be increasing. UAA has provided another year of the geriatric interdisciplinary leadership development program this upcoming academic year.
The training program is geared towards professionals and students who want to provide care to Alaskans, Alaska Native elders and their families in rural and frontier communities.
The AK GILD program was funded by the federal government in 2015 under the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program. The AK GILD program partnered with Southcentral Foundation and established itself at UAA.
Currently, Alaska’s population aged 65 and older is 82,686. According to Alaska Population Projections: 2017 to 2045, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development projected that there will be an increase of 60 percent by 2045. This will reach to approximately 131,982 senior citizens.
Because of the growth of the elderly population and the migration of families from rural to urban communities in Alaska, American Indians and Alaska Natives often lose access to health care, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine.
The program provides 150 hours of distance-delivered interdisciplinary leadership training. Students and professionals go through an application. Those that are accepted into the program will have their tuition waived.
“It is a program that offers three 500-level credits. So, they are non-academic. They are actually in the professional development credit category at UAA,” Sheila Shinn, director of Geriatrics and Gerontology initiatives, said. “What it allows students to do is to have an extra exposure and potential for certifications in geriatrics and working with older adults.”
Shinn also added that students can turn the AK GILD program into three credits of practicum time in programs such as nursing.
“The program was initially developed as workforce development opportunity,” Shinn said. “We’re really targeting mid-career professionals already working in their field. The other seats out of that 15, minus the three for students — those people are usually middle-aged professionals in healthcare. It’s not specifically geared towards students, but we didn’t want to shut the door on student opportunity. We do welcome students to apply.”
One of the students that was accepted into the AK GILD program was Teri Martin. She was in the nursing program when she heard about the opportunity to learn more about geriatrics.
Since the nursing program was an intensive course for her at the time, Martin graduated in the spring of 2017 with a bachelor’s in nursing and applied for the AK GILD program the following fall semester.
“One of the things that I really liked about [the AK GILD program] coming specifically out of the nursing program was that it was multidisciplinary. It wasn’t just other nurses that were in the program — there were people who worked with assisted living or with the Native hospital kind of coordinate care for the elderly.”
Martin currently works at Alaska Regional Hospital as a registered nurse. Because of the program, she has a clearer understanding of her patients.
“I worked in the medical and oncology unit, and we do see people that have dementia and mainly a lot of the people we see because they’re medical patients… One of the opportunities I had with the GILD program was to do my focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia-related care. A number of the patients that we see or that are in there do have different grades of dementia or progressions of dementia,” Martin said.
“It’s really been helpful to have done a lot of research and have done my little project on that — just how to approach these patients, how to approach their family members and try to give them the best care that I can,” she added.
The program is currently accepting applications until Jan. 5, 2019. For additional information about the AK GILD program, visit their official website or contact Sheila Shinn at (907) 264-6251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.