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Catherine Van Son

Catherine Van Son, an associate professor at the WSU College of Nursing in Vancouver, was honored this month as a Distinguished Educator in Gerontological Nursing by an organization dedicated to improving healthcare for older adults.

Van Son received her award at the National Hartford Center of Gerontological Nursing Excellence Leadership Conference in Austin, Texas.

The nonprofit organization is a collaboration of nursing schools and institutions that have a commitment to the field of gerontological nursing.

“National Hartford is raising the stature of people who are working and teaching in gerontological nursing,” Van Son said. “My career has been dedicated to advocating for, teaching, and mentoring nurses to consider gerontological nursing as a career focus.”

The National Hartford Center said in its announcement of Van Son’s honor, “It is imperative to have well-prepared nurse educators not only with knowledge and skills in the care of older adults, but also with teaching competence so that they can foster positive attitudes toward older adults.”

Van Son said it’s uncommon for undergraduate nursing students to choose caring for older adults as their careers. There’s a mistaken perception that most older adults are medically frail, cognitively impaired, reside in a long-term care facility, and that the work isn’t exciting.

In reality, 95% of older adults are “live in the community and are actively engaged in life,” she said.

Gerontological nursing “is fascinating, and it’s an area of nursing where we can use nursing interventions to support older adults in maintaining their functional independence,” she continued. “Working with them in community-based settings you are able to trial an intervention one week, then something else another week, until you and the older adult find something that works.”

Van Son was drawn to that area of nursing by experiences as a child, visiting nursing homes with her mother who was a licensed practical nurse. As Van Son continued her nursing education – beginning as a nursing assistant and eventually earning a PhD – she never wavered.

“I enjoy working with older adults and they have provided a rich context for clinical, research and educational opportunities,” Van Son said. “They are interesting and challenging and have so much to share with us, if we spend time with them and listen.”