Bellarmine University has aging on its mind


By Kevin Hansen, PhD, JD

Population statistics show that by the year 2030, more than 20 percent of Americans will be over the age of 65 (U.S. Census Bureau), and the number of older adults age 85 and older continues to grow.

With this booming aging demographic, Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, recognizes the importance of preparing students for future careers in health and aging services, senior care and enrichment programs that embody the essence of cura personalis: care of the whole person in mind, body and spirit. Bellarmine has undertaken a multifaceted approach to address some of the challenges and opportunities associated with the aging population.

Health Services and Senior Living Leadership

The Health Services and Senior Living Leadership Department prepares students for a range of careers as leaders in health services and senior living, or for continuing their education in graduate programs. The program helps students understand the broader context of health services delivery to prepare for careers in nursing homes, assisted living communities, home- and community-based services organizations and hospice and palliative care organizations.

Students have the option to choose from one of three majors to pursue a career in health and aging services. The curriculum focuses on several important factors, including historical context and current trends, quality assurance and performance improvement, financial implications, leadership strategies and ethical considerations in delivering care. Students strive to synthesize contemporary best practices to include programmatic, financial, clinical, logistical and technological aspects in the development and implementation an organization’s strategic plan.

In addition, students complete an experiential learning component through a 90-hour or 1,000-hour internship. Bellarmine partners with several care communities to host students for this experience, where administrators serve as a “preceptor,” and students gain experience while assisting their site with projects to improve the quality of care delivered to residents, as well as increase organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

The Department is guided by an Advisory Board of local health services leaders, representing companies such as Trilogy Health Services, Nazareth Home, Atria Senior Living, as well as provider associations such as the Kentucky Association for Healthcare Facilities/KCAL, LeadingAge Kentucky and the Kentucky Senior Living Association.

Graduate and Post-Graduate Education

Individuals interested in health and aging services can enroll in relevant, practical graduate-level degrees at Bellarmine to enhance their abilities and better serve older adults. Healthcare professionals can elect to pursue a Master of Health Services (MHS) degree or a PhD in Health Professions Education. The MHS program is designed for practicing healthcare professionals and is delivered in an online format. Graduates of the MHS program are equipped to advance into leadership positions or pursue other career paths in healthcare related to advocacy, health promotion, or education. The Ph.D. in Health Professions Education degree can help individuals further advance in their careers, or pursue a career in university teaching, leadership, or research related to senior care issues. This program was also designed to serve working professionals by having three to six weekend meetings per semester and including online work in the curriculum.

Additionally, as a component of their academic and clinical training, Doctor of Physical Therapy students are exposed to physical and cognitive changes that occur with aging through a gerontology course, taught by an interdisciplinary team that includes board-certified Geriatric Clinical Specialists.

Physical therapist students and faculty also partner with several local organizations, including the Thrive Center, to host regular “Strive to Thrive” events for community-dwelling older adults. These events promote healthy aging through a “high-tech, high-touch” approach with traditional and state-of-the-art technology assisted interventions.

Bellarmine also offers a post-graduate residency program accredited by the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education. The program is one of only 18 in the country which provides advanced post-licensure specialized clinical and research training in the area of geriatric rehabilitation.

Professional Certificate

Bellarmine University also offers individuals the option to pursue a Professional Certificate in Gerontology, geared at preparing graduates for a wide range of careers including nursing, social services, public health agencies and long-term care positions that serve the aging population.

The certificate helps distinguish individuals as knowledgeable, committed professionals in the field of gerontology and prepares them for careers to improve the lives of older adults.

Veritas Society

The mission of the Veritas Society is to help people 55 and older keep their minds active and growing by taking collegiate coursework at their own pace. Veritas has a board of directors elected by the membership, and partners with Bellarmine faculty to have members in courses with undergraduate students (e.g., the Introduction to Gerontology course offered by Health Services and Senior Living Leadership). Veritas also works to develop its own programs to serve members, and individuals have a multitude of ways to become involved with the program.

As the older adult population continues to grow, Bellarmine University is responding by constantly evolving its academic programming and community partnerships to better meet the needs of this burgeoning group of individuals.

Faculty and administrative leaders with aging services expertise are continually working to propose and deliver new initiatives – in partnership with local healthcare companies and organizations, in many cases – to prepare future Bellarmine Knights for careers focusing on the older adult population. Our graduates continue to be well-equipped and prepared to provide highly skilled care to promote healthy and successful aging in the Louisville community.

  • Kevin Hansen, PhD, JD, LLM is assistant professor in the Department of Health Services and Senior Living Leadership at Bellarmine University. Assistance also from Dr. David Wolf, Dr. Tony Brosky, Dr. Christy Kane and Dr. Mark Wiegand.