I distinctly recall people ’ s reaction of revulsion when I told them I worked in a SNF ; admiration became mockery and pity . The stigma of caring for the elderly followed me despite educational advancement . I earned an associate , bachelor ’ s , and eventually a master ’ s in nursing . Yet , too many assumed I was not smart or capable enough to work in a hospital or other setting , or that I was somehow wasting my talent caring for elders .
The stigma I have experienced is not unique to me . Unfortunately , nurses who choose to work in SNFs rather than acute care or other healthcare settings often find themselves less valued . Researchers have identified three overarching themes influencing the stigma against nurses ( and other caregivers ) specializing in geriatrics :
• Unfavorable characterization of geriatric nurses . Unfounded beliefs contend that geriatric nurses lack the ability to work in other healthcare settings and that unethical behavior is a common trait ( e . g ., geriatric nurses are lazy or aren ’ t smart enough to work in the hospital ).
• Elder care is of lower societal value . Because society does not value care as highly as a cure and does not believe caring for the geriatric population requires a high level of skill , those engaged in providing care are perceived to have lower professional status . Because geriatric nurses don ’ t provide a service that results in a cure or other highly valued outcomes , their work is perceived as less important . In addition to the faulty assumption that care doesn ’ t require skill to provide , there is also the belief that the work itself is dirty , with frequent references made to the provision of incontinence care .
• Negative emotional connotations associated with elder care . Many in society negatively perceive that the care environment for elderly people is sad , depressing , and boring ( Manchha et al ., 2020 ).
The stigma against geriatrics and the ageism in our society are tremendous obstacles impeding the interest of new nurses . While these barriers are a reality , many of the beliefs that perpetuate them are false . Consider that most people who seek care in a hospital , home health , assisted living , or skilled nursing home are elderly . It is therefore likely that nurses , no matter the setting , will be caring for the elderly . Hence , the principles of geriatric nursing are critical to incorporate into most nurses ’ practices .
While there is an unfounded belief that nurses working in a SNF are not as capable as those in a hospital , this is a misconception . One of the key differences between the SNF and hospital settings is that SNF nurses practice with more autonomy , which requires a high level of skill and ability . Consider that , in the hospital setting , RNs have advanced monitoring devices , fewer patients , and a cohort of highly trained healthcare professionals such as physicians , pharmacists , radiologists , lab technicians , and respiratory therapists who can be assembled at the bedside in moments to assist with care . This is not the case in the SNF setting . SNF nurses must be capable of making astute observations and detailed assessments ; they must apply their knowledge and expertise to think critically and make decisions without other professionals at the bedside .
Kinship with Colleagues Although I have experienced stigma as a gerontological nurse , I am grateful beyond words for my experiences in the specialty . My life has been enriched in ways I never imagined when I first embarked on my nursing journey . Not only did I care for elders , but they in turn also cared for me , shaping and molding me along the way . Those I have cared for have taught me how to be more patient , to take time to cherish the small moments in life , and to stay on a path of healthy living . The wisdom they share with me is priceless . Likewise , my kinship with colleagues has been a source of happiness and strength . I have depended on this camaraderie and insight from other committed caregivers when feeling emotionally exhausted or when questioning if what I did was good enough to help someone .
Finally , my knowledge and skills as a gerontological nurse , along with my regard and affection for elders , enabled me to help my grandmother navigate the complexities of aging with dignity , using her goals for wellness to lead us . I believe it is a gift and an honor to have been there for her and so many other elders and their families . Sometimes I ’ m still taken aback at the trust that others placed in me to care for their parent or grandparent who had contributed so much to our society . In some instances , they extended me the kindness of treating me as part of their family — and often it felt that way .
20 NSNA IMPRINT • JANUARY 2022 • www . nsna . org