Ginger Raterink, DNSc, RN, ANP is the option coordinator for the Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner program and provides primary health care services to adults and older adults at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, A.F. Williams Family Clinic.
She knows what it takes to succeed in getting an online education. She took some of her doctoral courses online at a major Midwestern university. She was one of the first CU faculty to develop online courses when she arrived at the College of Nursing in 1998. Her faculty team worked on translating the advanced assessment course to an online format—a challenge because the course traditionally requires hands on practice.
Now, the College of Nursing has combined online education with short on-site experiences to enable students nationally (and internationally) to earn the Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner or Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist degrees.
During her clinical training, Dr. Raterink discovered much to like about the senior adult population. “They’re such caring, loving folks,” she says. “It’s so easy to communicate with them. They listen. They bring a wealth of life experiences with them.”
Of course, there are challenges. Seniors have more chronic diseases and must manage many medications. Many need more than the standard 20 minutes for an office visit to achieve successful communication. Insurance requirements and the changing environment of Medicare add to the confusion.
Today’s nurse practitioners encounter a wider range of patient issues, from longer and healthier lives to longer lives with more diseases. “People are getting older and healthier,” Dr. Raterink explains. That’s because there is a greater emphasis on healthier lifestyle, and people are living longer, she says.
In younger populations, we define health as free of disease, Dr. Raterink maintains. For the elderly population, health is defined as living healthy within the context of chronic disease (i.e., high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, and arthritis. For example, if an older patient has high blood pressure, he or she has to learn to live while keeping hypertension in mind—eating a healthier diet, exercising to maintain good muscle tone, improving blood pressure control.
Diabetes is another chronic disease for older adults, a focus for Dr. Raterink’s in her clinical work at A.F. Williams Family Clinic in Denver. “We have a very active geriatric department here at the clinic,” Dr. Raterink says. “We have operated under a team approach for some time. We set the tone for how others operate in primary care and other specialty areas.”
The team includes a physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, RN, pharmacist and social worker. “A lot of collaboration happens on a daily basis,” Dr. Raterink says. “When I’m contacting other specialties for my primary care patients, it’s very collaborative.”