Geriatric nursing leadership
With the number of Americans age 65 or older expected to double in the next 25 years, geriatric nursing has become a critical part of the healthcare spectrum. But for Amy Cotton, a 1987 graduate of the University of Maine School of Nursing, caring for seniors has always been a priority. Cotton recently received the Sigma Theta Tau International nursing honor society’s inaugural Geriatric Nursing Leadership Award. This honor, the highest distinction in the field, recognizes Cotton’s 22 years of service. She is the director of Rosscare in Bangor, Maine, an affiliate of EMHS, which provides healthcare services to seniors in the area. UMaine Today asked her to reflect on her career and the changes in nursing since her days at UMaine.
Why did you choose gerontological nursing versus another specialty? When I started my nursing career at Eastern Maine Medical Center, I immediately found I had a special connection with my older adults. I loved caring for this clinically complex population and enjoyed hearing their rich life history stories. I was passionate about getting these folks back on their feet again to improve their quality of life.
How did UMaine prepare you for this career? The UMaine School of Nursing provided a strong foundation in nursing assessment. The spark for my career in geriatrics was lit during my community health class. I completed a health assessment in Millinocket. I was surprised to see the number of citizens 65 and older and learn of the predicted growth of this demographic. I also was concerned about the challenges in transportation and access to healthcare that older adults in rural areas faced.
How has the field changed since you left UMaine? Technology has had a significant impact on changing how the science of nursing is delivered. Electronic medical records, telehealth services and patient care equipment have all improved healthcare delivery. Despite these changes, nurses still provide high touch and compassionate care. I’m proud of my profession for keeping that in mind.
You recently spoke at the UMaine School of Nursing’s 70th anniversary event, and you’re currently on the nursing faculty at Husson University. How is nursing education different now than it was in the 1980s? What has stayed the same? The biggest change in education has come with technology. Accessing nursing research and evidence-based practices used to be a labor-intensive job for nursing students. These resources are now at your fingertips. I remember vividly having a painful “writer’s bump” after frantically taking notes in class. Now, students have laptops and PowerPoint lecture notes provided. Students today have the ability to take virtual tours of the human body, as well as practice physical assessment without access to a “live” patient. Nursing has continued to be person-centered, helping students understand how uniquely individual those we provide healthcare to are. Having strong nursing skills to understand the whole person (physical, emotional, spiritual needs) has continued to be the focus of nursing.
When you were at UMaine, what was your favorite place on campus? The Bear’s Den. I commuted to UMaine and was thankful for the great food.
Most memorable UMaine moment? Pinning Ceremony at the School of Nursing, 1987.
While in Orono, I spent too much time: Looking for a parking spot — are there ever enough?
Favorite professor: Dr. Jean Symonds – her passion for nursing science fueled my desire to be a great nurse.
Class that nearly did you in? Statistics
How did your UMaine experience shape who you are now? It was a bit scary being a commuter student. I had to develop good communication skills and learn the importance of self-confidence as I progressed through my four-year degree program. Those are skills that have served me well in my professional career.
Best UMaine tradition? Homecoming weekend
If I knew then what I know now, I would have… tried to stay in touch with more of my nursing classmates after graduation. Great friendships give life a richness that nothing else can.
Why UMaine? Accessible for a commuting Maine student; reputable nursing program; affordable
How does UMaine continue to influence your life? For a number of years, I have been invited to share with senior nursing students my nursing leadership journey experience. To be able to inspire others, share the life lessons I have learned and urge nurses to consider the specialized healthcare needs of older adults has been a life enriching privilege for me.
Image Description: Amy Cotton