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UW-La Crosse helps build workforce for an aging world

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Providing therapy

Students from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in recreation management therapy create craft projects with Ping Manor residents

By the end of 2019, for the first time, more people will be over the age of 65 than under the age of 5, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A growing population of older adults worldwide brings with it many questions including how to meet future health-care needs of an aging population.

UW-La Crosse is doing its part to make sure the future workforce is well prepared for a growing population of older adults. The university once again has been named a national leader in its work to meet the needs of an aging population.

The UW-L Therapeutic Recreation Program received Program of Merit for Health Professions designation from The Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education.

UW-L’s program is the first Health Professions program to receive this stamp of excellence.

The recent honor builds on a previous record at UW-L of work that responds to the interests, needs and opportunities for the growing, aging population.

In 2018, UW-L was the first university in Wisconsin to be designated as an Age-Friendly University, an international effort led by Dublin City University to highlight the role higher education can play in responding to the challenges and opportunities associated with an aging population.

UW-L’s program earned the Program of Merit designation by integrating gerontology and geriatrics competencies into its Therapeutic Recreation Program curriculum, based on standards and guidelines from the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education.

The designation came after a review and vote from the national Program of Merit for Health Professions Review Team.

Nancy Richeson, UW-L associate professor of Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation, was part of a national Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education task force, along with Marilyn Gugliucci, chair of the AGHE Program of Merit for Health Professions, that developed a set of standards and guidelines specifically for gerontology and geriatric curriculum for health professions programs.

She then worked with Gugliucci to apply to be one of the first university programs nationwide to be reviewed based on those guidelines to become a Program of Merit.

Additionally, UW-L’s TR Program was awarded financial support through an AGHE Grant from the Retirement Research Foundation to launch the AGHE Program of Merit for Health Professions – 10 institutions that integrate geriatrics/gerontology competencies in one of their health professions program was eligible to apply for the Retirement Research Foundation funding through AGHE.

UW-L was the first to be awarded the funding and the first to successfully complete the POM review.

“UW-L was well positioned to be considered for this important review. Dr. Richeson contributed greatly to building the AGHE standards and guidelines established for health professions programs,” Dr. Gugliucci says. “She is clearly progressive in the field of aging and a leader in the field of Therapeutic Recreation.”

The work of integrating the competencies took time and effort, Richeson said. Over a couple years, the UW-L department reviewed the gerontology and geriatric competencies and developed ways to integrate them into the program’s existing coursework.

“Truly, this is a testament to the student-centered, action-oriented, and professionally committed folks who deliver an amazing Therapeutic Recreation program every day,” says Laurie Harmon, chair of UW-L’s Recreation Management & Therapeutic Recreation Department.

UW-L’s program will be recognized on the AGHE Website and a certificate will be presented at the AGHE Annual Business Meeting in Austin, Texas, in November.

UW-L’s new gerontology emphasis, open to all majors, is another way UW-L is preparing future workers for an aging population. Student numbers in the program were reported as part of the review for the Program of Merit designation.

UW-L’s Therapeutic Recreation Program also received the American Therapeutic Recreation Association Excellence in Education award in August.

The award goes to clinical agency or institution of higher education that has distinguished itself through outstanding contributions to the Recreation Therapy and Therapeutic Recreation profession. Only one program nationally earns the award each year.


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