After working closely with older adults in a variety of nursing positions, Debra Bakerjian knows well the statistics that point to an urgent need for more geriatric specialists to serve America’s rapidly growing aging population. The postdoctoral scholar at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing says this is one reason why she chose to specialize in geriatric care.
"I truly enjoyed taking care of the older adult population," says Bakerjian. "It is a challenging environment that demands my best clinical skills, while allowing me to work as an independent contractor and work with other health-care providers."
Bakerjian began her nursing career after earning an associate degree in nursing from Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif., in 1977. Over the years she continued her education by earning a bachelor’s degree, a family nurse practitioner certificate and then a master of science degree. She was awarded a Ph.D. in health policy and gerontology in 2006 from UC San Francisco. Her doctoral study received the Dissertation of the Year Award at UC San Francisco.
Research designed to help older adults
Bakerjian, who has received several grants and awards, aims through her research to improve the quality of care for aging populations. Her research is primarily focused on nurse practitioners and quality improvement practices in nursing homes; the transitions between acute-care facilities, nursing homes, and assisted living centers; chronic disease management; pain management; quality of care and of life; and education for health-care workers.
A unique aspect of her research is her focus on nurse practitioners and their role in long-term care.
"The need to increase the number of geriatric-trained, primary-care providers will only increase with the growing number of older adults," Bakerjian says. "My research will help better determine the role nurse practitioners can play within the long-term-care industry and how they can best fit into the interdisciplinary team, potentially freeing geriatric-trained physicians to provide more specialized care, while still improving the access to care for older adults."
On the ground floor
"There is probably nothing more exciting and challenging than being on the ground floor of a brand-new school of nursing," Bakerjian says, when asked why she accepted the position with the school. "More importantly, the opportunity to be affiliated with the exceptional leadership at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing is the chance of a lifetime. I was thrilled to be accepted as a postdoctoral fellow and am looking forward to a long and productive relationship with the school moving forward. And, since this is where I initially received my nurse practitioner training, it feels a lot like coming home."
In her opinion, one of the things that makes the school special is its focus on systems, health policy and population health. This focus fills a need in nursing that will have a huge impact on educating nurses as leaders in the complex health-care environment of the future.
"In some ways, nursing is in a unique position in health care," Bakerjian says, "because care coordination, communication and caring are such core parts of our role in health care. As a profession, we have always had a holistic approach to care and we have always been patient advocates. This is a fundamental part of what we do and who we are as nurses. For this reason, nurses can play an important part in helping shape policy so that it is comprehensive and truly meets the needs of people."
The need is significant. More than 81 million Americans over age 20 have one or more types of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure. Peripheral vascular disease is estimated to affect up to 10 million Americans. UC Davis Health System is improving cardiovascular health through state-of-the-art patient care, cutting-edge research, education and outreach.