Perceptions on the importance of gerontological education by teachers and students of undergraduate health sciences

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<ul><li><p>ral</p><p>ssBioMed CentBMC Medical Education</p><p>Open AcceResearch articlePerceptions on the importance of gerontological education by teachers and students of undergraduate health sciencesVctor Manuel Mendoza-Nez*, Mara de la Luz Martnez-Maldonado and Elsa Correa-Muoz</p><p>Address: Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico, Unidad de Investigacin en Gerontologa (FES ZARAGOZA). Batalla 5 de mayo s/n, esq. Fuerte de Loreto, Col. Ejrcito de Oriente, 09230 Mxico, D. F., Mxico</p><p>Email: Vctor Manuel Mendoza-Nez* -; Mara de la Luz Martnez-Maldonado -; Elsa Correa-Muoz -</p><p>* Corresponding author Equal contributors</p><p>AbstractBackground: The main challenge of higher education institutions throughout the world is todevelop professionals capable of understanding and responding to the current social priorities ofour countries. Given the utmost importance of addressing the complex needs of an increasinglyelderly population in Mexico, the National Autonomous University of Mexico has systematicallyincorporated modules dealing with primary gerontological health care into several of itsundergraduate programs in health sciences. The objective of this study was to analyze teacher's andstudent's perceptions about the current educational practices on gerontology.</p><p>Methods: A cross-sectional study was carried out with a sample of 26 teachers and 122undergraduate students. Subjects were administered interviews and responded survey instrument.</p><p>Results: A vast proportion of the teachers (42%) reported students' attitudes towards theiracademic training as the most important factor affecting learning in the field of gerontology,whereas students reported that the main problems of education in gerontology were theoretical(32%) and methodological (28%). In addition, 41% of students considered education on ageingmatters as an essential element for their professional development, as compared to 19% ofteachers (p &lt; 0.05).</p><p>Conclusion: Our findings suggest that the teachers' perceptions about the low importance ofeducation on ageing matters for the professional practice of health sciences could be a negativefactor for gerontology teaching.</p><p>BackgroundThe demographic and epidemiological transitionsthroughout the world make it necessary to train profes-sionals in the area of health sciences with a biological,</p><p>the decisive role that students' perceptions and attitudesabout ageing play in the achievement of educational out-comes [5-8]. However, the role of the teacher in this proc-ess has not been analyzed.</p><p>Published: 19 January 2007</p><p>BMC Medical Education 2007, 7:1 doi:10.1186/1472-6920-7-1</p><p>Received: 26 June 2006Accepted: 19 January 2007</p><p>This article is available from:</p><p> 2007 Mendoza-Nez et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.Page 1 of 6(page number not for citation purposes)</p><p>psychological and social perspective about the ageingprocess [1-4]. Several studies in the field have emphasized</p></li><li><p>BMC Medical Education 2007, 7:1</p><p>The teaching-learning process is a lived experience involv-ing the engagement with others in the acquisition ofknowledge. It also includes the multidimensional proc-esses of expanding one's imagination, naming the new,keeping up-to-date with advancements and shifts in thefield, abiding paradox, constructing meaning, and gettinginvolved in a continuous dialogue. In this sense, learningcannot be free from the context. Learning and its organi-zation into an individual's personal knowledge system arehighly dependent on the context in which things havebeen learned. Likewise, the intrinsic motivations associ-ated with students' and teachers' perceptions are associ-ated to their success in the process [9,10].</p><p>Perception is understood as the positions, attitudes,affects and behaviors that an individual exhibits towardscertain processes, situations, objects or persons. Currentresearch has shown that the myths, stereotypes and preju-dices towards ageing held by some undergraduate stu-dents have a negative repercussion on their academiceducation, and in turn, over the quality of services andattention that they give to elderly populations [11-14].</p><p>The paramount importance of promoting a deep under-standing of the ageing process and of the medical, socialand psychological needs of the elderly population, is nowwidely acknowledge in our country. Hence, the NationalAutonomous University of Mexico at Zaragoza has incor-porated into the current undergraduate health scienceseducation program theoretical content in the field of ger-ontology. However, there has been a lack of systematictraining for teachers in these areas (only 1% of the teach-ers in charge of these courses hold graduate studies in thefield).</p><p>The purpose of this study was to evaluate the perceptionof students and teachers towards current educational pro-grams in gerontology. The understanding of such percep-tions is expected to become an important element in thedevelopment of educational strategies leading to the pro-motion of higher standards in the provision of health andsocial services for the elderly. This appreciation wouldalso entail the enforcement of positive attitudes towardsageing and the teaching of the gerontology in our gradu-ates.</p><p>MethodsDesign and subjectsA cross-sectional study was carried out with a sample of 26teachers and 122 undergraduate students of health sci-ences, with prior informed consent.</p><p>All participants were administered a questionnaire evalu-</p><p>ogy and their perspectives about educational priorities ingerontology for professional practice.</p><p>Issues associated to teaching of gerontology were definedas the significant difficulties for acquisition of theoreticalknowledge, technical skills, procedures, personal relation-ships, and autonomous learning during the teaching-learning process of gerontology. In this regard, the mainissues considered in the evaluation of teachers' and stu-dents' perceptions which make gerontological educationdifficult were classified as follows:</p><p>(i)Theoretical: significant limitations of scientific knowl-edge and their own knowledge on gerontology; (ii) Meth-odological: significant limitations of the definition andestablishment of objectives, content and procedures forthe attainment of stated objectives for gerontological edu-cation; (iii) Motivational: little interest or dissatisfactionwith conduction of academic activities linked to gerontol-ogy; (iv) Attitudinal: negative behavior and little partici-pation of individuals during training, which significantlyaffects their professional performance in the gerontologi-cal area; (v) Access to Literature: technical and infrastruc-ture limitations which significantly affect accessibility togerontological bibliography; and (vi) Previous Education:having taken previous formal extracurricular courses onbasic gerontological knowledge.</p><p>The questionnaire for evaluating their previous educationin geriatrics and gerontology and their perspectives abouteducational priorities in gerontology for professionalpractice was previously pilot-tested in a group of 10 stu-dents so as to verify the understanding of the questions.The definitions of all the study variables were included.The questionnaire was approved by a panel of 4 gerontol-ogists. It was personally and directly given to teachers; andin small groups (1012 persons), to students during theinter-semester period.</p><p>Additionally, in order to deepen our understanding ofcurrent perceptions underlying current teaching practicesin the field of gerontology, an interview with a semi-struc-tured guide was administered to 10 students -5 frombeginning semesters and 5 from advanced semesters- andto 5 teachers -one from each degree course. Interviewslasted 30 minutes on average, and they were recorded.</p><p>Data analysisThe data were analyzed using the SPSS 12.0 statistical pro-gram (SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL, USA). Descriptive statisticswere means and percentages. Chi-square testing (X2) wasused to compare proportions.Page 2 of 6(page number not for citation purposes)</p><p>ating their previous education in geriatrics and gerontol-</p></li><li><p>BMC Medical Education 2007, 7:1</p><p>Qualitative analysisInterviews were transcribed and analyzed in accordance tothe scheme proposed by Huberman and Miles (1994)[15]: reading, coding, presentation, reduction and inter-pretation. Information was coded in the following catego-ries regarding the priorities of gerontological education:A) Biological Aspects of Ageing; B) Sociological Aspects ofAgeing; C) Psychological Aspects of Ageing; and D) Clini-cal Practice in the Elderly.</p><p>ResultsDescription of the participantsThe average age of teachers was 44 6.8 years. 65% werewomen and 35%, men. In regards to their academic back-ground, 7 were chemist-pharmacist-biologists, 6 psychol-ogists, 6 dentists, 4 surgeons and 3 nurses.</p><p>Average age of students was 22 2.7 years. 71% werewomen and 29%, men. 49 were students registered in thefirst four semesters (elementary level) of training and 73from fifth to ninth semester (advanced level) of under-graduate programs of dentistry (69), medicine (33) andnursing (20).</p><p>Problems affecting teachingA vast proportion of the teachers (42%) reported students'attitudes towards their academic training as the mostimportant factor affecting learning in the field of gerontol-ogy, followed by their lack of previous education (36%).Contrary to the above, students' reported that the biggestproblem associated with gerontology learning was relatedto theoretical (32%) and methodological aspects (28%)as shown in Table 1.</p><p>Importance of Education in GerontologyAs to the perceived priority areas within gerontology edu-cation, an agreement was evident among students andteachers on the importance of biological content, whereassocial and research matters were considered the leastimportant (Table 2).</p><p>With regard to the importance of the integration of theo-retical content in gerontology within the current academicprograms in the fields of biological, health and behavioralsciences, results showed that both students (57%) andteachers (58%) acknowledged the importance of both dis-ciplines for their professional development. However,there was an important difference between the percent-ages of students (41%) that considered education on age-ing matters as an essential element for their professionaldevelopment, as compared to a lower percentage of teach-ers (19 %) that considered it as essential (Table 3). In thisregard, significant differences were not found by gender or</p><p>It is important to note that the percentages of perceivedrelevance of ageing related content within the curriculumare higher in the case of students (15%) when comparedto teachers (8%). Furthermore, students (45%) were moreemphatic than teachers (23%) regarding the importanceof direct work with elderly populations as well as the needto promote interdisciplinary approaches in the field(Table 3).</p><p>The analysis of teachers' responses made evident twomain positions towards ageing. Several teachers (60%)conceptualized ageing as an illness:</p><p>" [Ageing] is a final stage in the life of an individual like a dis-ease."</p><p>"We have to concentrate on the clinical attention to this agegroup [the elderly], because ageing is like another additionaldisease"</p><p>By the same token, 40% of teachers conceptualized ageingas a gradual and multi-determined process, stressing theimportance of interdisciplinary work in this area andhighlighting the need to concentrate in the affective areain order to sensitize their students towards the social, bio-logical, cultural and medical aspects of ageing. Examplesof the perspectives endorsed by the second group are thefollowing:</p><p>"I try to introduce my students to basic concepts about ageing sothat they can overcome myths and taboos about the elderly thatinfluence the way they approach them"; "I try to sensitize mystudents to the needs of the elderly, to approach them with duerespect, to make them understand the anatomical and func-tional changes associated to ageing, and to develop a holisticperspective towards their treatment".</p><p>In general, teachers emphasized the importance of relat-ing theory to practice in the education field, stressing theimportance of the latter.</p><p>Teachers' priorities in the teaching of gerontologyIn order to gain insight into the teachers' perceived prior-ities in the teaching of gerontology, university teacherswere asked the following question: What do you think isthe most important area in the teaching of gerontology?.Responses to this question were analyzed so as to qualita-tively identify different categories of descriptions of teach-ers' priorities. Four main priorities emerged from thepresent study: biological, sociological, and psychologicalcorrelates of ageing as well as matters related to the clini-cal practice with elderly populations. Brief descriptions ofthose categories and representative excerpts from thePage 3 of 6(page number not for citation purposes)</p><p>school level (p &gt; 0.05). teacher survey are summarized in Table 4.</p></li><li><p>BMC Medical Education 2007, 7:1</p><p>The categories were analyzed in terms of the teachers'objectives and their strategies for achieving them. The pri-orities described in categories A, B and C show an interestin understanding the theoretical elements related to thebiology, sociology and psychology of aging while categoryD shows an intention to promote a relational and coher-ent understanding of gerontology for clinical practice.Therefore, a qualitative shift in intention is evident fromthe emphasis in the teaching of theoretical knowledge(categories A, B and C) to the interest in aspects related tothe actual clinical practice.</p><p>DiscussionThe demographic and epidemiological transition manyLatin-American Countries, such as Mexico, are goingthrough, urges Universities to train professionals for eld-erly care. Thus, the interest on the gerontological fieldamong undergraduate students is to be promoted. In thisarea, a study conducted in the University of WesternOntario, Canada, found that less than 20% of first-yearmedical students were interested in geriatrics, and in thesecond-year the percentage dropped to 16% [16].</p><p>In this regard, in our study, students were asked: Is educa-tion on ageing matters essential in your profession? 41% ofrespondents said yes, whereas only 19% of teachersagreed with such a statement. This suggests that eventhough a large percentage of the students acknowledge theimportance of gerontology in their professional practice,the perception of teachers may negatively influence thestudents' interest.</p><p>Therefore, it is necessary to implement tr...</p></li></ul>