As a nursing student, Megan Honrud needed a way to apply what she had learned in the classroom to real, hands-on experiences in the field.

That’s exactly what she got at Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s Senior Living in Wabasha.

During the 2022 Fall Semester at Winona State University, Honrud was enrolled in a course that taught her the difficulties of older adult care.

To put that into practice, Honrud was given a new teacher — 90-year-old Marion Averbeck, a tenant at Gundersen St Elizabeth’s Senior Living.

Honrud was one of 11 students who got the chance to develop hands-on experiences through the senior living partnership. This semester, of the 88 nursing students enrolled in the Care of the Aging Adult course, 11 of them have been assigned to Gundersen St Elizabeth’s Senior Living and are following in their footsteps.

“Megan, along with her peers, examined drivers that contribute to health and longevity,” said Terese Hemmingsen, RN, DPN, MSN, CDCES, CNE, PHN, associate professor, WSU-Rochester campus. “By exploring the unique experiences of their tenants, they discovered how genetics, lifestyle, culture, environment and other social determinants influenced health status and outcomes.”

During one of Honrud’s visits with Averbeck, they talked about Averbeck’s birthday party, her seven children and the scrapbook that holds multiple memories of family events. In between stories, Honrud asked Averbeck a series of questions about what year it is, what day, and whether she could spell “world” backward.

The questions were part of a screening tool that helps to identify cognitive impairment. When performed consistently, providers can evaluate the development of possible dementia and consider potential treatment plans. Averbeck’s responses were recorded and shared during one of many weekly debriefings with Honrud’s professor.

These visits with Averbeck offered a viewpoint on aging that Honrud would not discover in a textbook.

I have had the opportunity to get a better understanding of the aging population. I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience and it is something I will take into my career as a nurse.

Megan Honrud

Nursing Student, Winona State University

The primary goal of this nursing course is to practice and improve communication, assessment, and teaching abilities, said Hemmingsen. She also added that the visits give nursing students the opportunity to analyze and identify problems that might be affecting their tenant’s health and wellbeing.

Shara Fuller, RN, clinical nurse manager for Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s Assisted Living, said the program is beneficial for her tenants.

“The tenants enjoy the interaction with their students,” she said. “The intergenerational exchange expands their world and offers a social connection they look forward to.”

The Care of the Aging Adult program is one of several collaborative projects between Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s and WSU. The two institutions have worked together for many years to give nursing students excellent clinical experiences. Both the nursing students and assisted living older adults have recognized the valuable benefits of this collaboration.

“This partnership between the assisted living older adults and the students is a win-win,” said Hemmingsen.