What Undergraduate Nurse Education Actually Teaches Student Nurses About People Named as Older: A Foucauldian Discourse Analysis
Foster, Pamela Margaret
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People are living longer and gerontology knowledge, or knowledge of the person named as older, is part of the learning required in undergraduate nurse education. Older age is considered, in Aotearoa New Zealand, to begin at 65 years and extends until death, hence represents a heterogeneous population, ranging from the employed marathon runner, to the frail and dependent person with complex healthcare needs. The purpose of this research has been to first trace the beginnings of gerontology knowledge in undergraduate nurse education, and from there to explore the contemporary discursive production of gerontology knowledge, establishing how people named as older are constructed for the student nurse, and what are the material effects. Understanding knowledge is socially constructed, this research draws on the philosophical and theoretical works of Michel Foucault and his notions of discourse and power/knowledge to inform a discourse analysis. Data for this research were sourced from a variety of mediums including, historical documents, textbooks, journal articles and interviews with senior academic staff working in undergraduate programmes leading to registration as a nurse. Analysis of historical data revealed how people named as older became visible to the student nurse through material practices such as clinical experience in aged residential care facilities, and geriatric wards that divided older people off from the mainstream hospital population. The discursive effects were to produce, for the student nurse, the person named as older in a functional decline discourse intertwined with a biomedicalised discourse. A shift to current educational practices and nurse scholarship of gerontology knowledge revealed a continued deployment of a functional decline discourse supported by stereotypical assumptions of older people, and clinical placements in ARC. Analysis hence revealed, a very limited understanding of people named as older and a failure to capture the heterogeneity of the population defined as representing gerontology knowledge. In the final analysis gerontology knowledge, as a construct, proved unstable and partial as a person named as older is not ubiquitously constructed by gerontology knowledge. The contribution this thesis makes therefore, is to highlight the contested domain of gerontology knowledge and from there generate dialogue about how older age is actually represented in student nurse education, as the current iteration perpetuates stereotypical assumptions about older age.