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Gerontology Nursing Excellence Externship: Transforming the Future Workforce

“Gerontological nurses require a unique skill-set”, explains Melissa O’Connor, PhD, MBA, RN, FGSA, associate professor and director of the Fitzpatrick College of Nursing’s Gerontology Interest Group (“the GiG”). “The GiG’s Gerontology Nursing Excellence Externship: Transforming the Future Workforce is an innovative response to the need to transform the nursing workforce so that we are better prepared to care for the growing population of older adults”. The Externship is a first-of-its-kind, structured summer clinical experience designed to provide undergraduate nursing students a 360-degree opportunity to work with older adults. The first partnership launched during the summer of 2020 with California-based Generations Healthcare.

“The externship developed by Dr. O’Connor, in partnership with Generations Healthcare, creates a ‘win-win’ program where nursing students gain valuable clinical experience, working alongside our nurses in an up-tempo post-acute environment. The Villanova Nursing students participating in this summer’s externship have performed magnificently. As Villanova alumni, Lois (’87 VSB, CFO) and I are extremely proud of offering this opportunity to Nova Nurses. We look forward to a long, mutually beneficial partnership with the GiG, “says John Mastrocola ’87 VSB, ’16P, ’21P, director of Regional Operations - Southern California and a member of the College’s Board of Consultors.

Female FCN nursing student works with an ederly female patient.
Kaidi Miller ’21 of Menlo Park, Ca. is an extern at Generations Healthcare’s Cedar Crest location.

Rising Fitzpatrick College of Nursing seniors and California residents, Cinthia Carlos, Victoria Mastrocola, and Kaidi Miller have been named the inaugural recipients of The Gerontology Nursing Excellence Externship. The curriculum is designed for students to not only work as certified nursing assistants (CNAs), but rotate through all aspects of the facility from nursing leadership to dietary services and facility management.  “Not only are these shadowing opportunities incredibly interesting, but I also better understand how various members of the healthcare team work together to collaboratively care for and improve outcomes for patients and residents,” Kaidi shared regarding her experience at the Cedar Crest facility. Four days a week, the nursing students work with patients as CNAs, leaving their final day to shadow and learn different aspects of care and operations. Victoria shared, “During my experience, I was able to apply my med-surg clinical experience in the establishment of comprehensive care plans for the diverse clinical comorbidities of the geriatric patient. Geriatric caregivers take a holistic approach to meet the psychosocial needs of the patient with the goal of improving their quality of life”.


Cinthia Carlos
Cinthia Carlos ’21 of Los Angeles, is externing at Generation Healthcare’s Canyon Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Cinthia admits that gerontological nursing may be overlooked initially by some when considering a career in nursing, however, she finds motivation in the growth of the population and their interest in maintaining an active, full lifestyle. Cinthia explains, “This experience has helped me improve my nursing skills while working in a different environment. It has helped me gain more confidence in my abilities and has provided me an incredible opportunity to work within the healthcare system during a public health emergency.”


Victoria Mastrocola
Victoria Mastrocola '21 performs a COVID-19 swab test while working at Generations Healthcare.

As the US older adult population continues to age and grow in size, determining how to care for them presents both opportunities and challenges. This growth underscores the urgent need for the education and preparation of nurses and students of all disciplines who are equipped to care for and with older adults with complex social and health needs, many of whom are suffering from multiple chronic conditions simultaneously.

Villanova University’s M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing (FCN) is meeting this need with the campus-wide GiG that includes all levels of faculty, students, researchers and staff who are dedicated to caring for and meeting the unique needs of older adults. Under the leadership of Dr. O’Connor, the group is assembling a diverse team with the varied expertise necessary to build a reputation for innovations in research and education across the care continuum for older adults. Visit here for more information about the GiG.