As baby boomers age in place, there’s a growing need for nurse practitioners trained to work with patients 65 and older, said Dr. Jill Shutes, assistant professor of nursing. That population will increase to 78 million people by 2035, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“That’s a huge influx in older people that need to be cared for,” Shutes said.
It’s what Shutes and others in her field call the “silver tsunami.” With age comes the need for specialty care and an increase in the likelihood of a patient suffering from multiple chronic diseases.
Adult/gerontology nurse practitioners also can teach or advocate for public policies that improve care, said Shutes, who previously taught long-term care facilities how to recognize early changes in a patient’s condition to prevent him or her from landing back in the hospital.
Now, Shutes makes house calls to patients — another change in medicine. The experience allows her to be a role model and share valuable anecdotes with her students.
“I’m able to bring fresh, new stories to the classroom on a weekly basis,” Shutes said. “The students are so grateful for that real-life experience.”
In South Florida, snowbirds contribute to the increasing demand for gerontologists, she said. They typically keep their primary care doctors in the North and need a specialist to fill in for a few months while they’re here. When caring for a patient with chronic conditions like diabetes or kidney failure, a nurse practitioner understands not to switch medications or change treatment plans without checking with the primary care doctor first. Those chronic diseases make it more complex to treat even common ailments such as strep throat.
That complexity – Shutes compares it to a tapestry with interwoven threads – is what makes gerontology so appealing to her, along with learning about life from her patients as she develops a rapport with them.
“Everything connects. It allows you to be super creative with each person you come into contact with,” Shutes said. “That, to me, is the art of working with that population.”
Top Photo: Dr. Jill Shutes teaches School of Nursing students.
Bottom Photo: Dr. Jill Shutes (center) listens to School of Nursing colleagues.