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Teaching for the Times

June 15, 2010

Sometimes, teaching is just in your blood.

Even before she came to ASU six years ago, Mona Dawson was teaching, just not in a traditional classroom setting.  First as a corporate nurse for a company in Victoria and then at Yoakum Community Hospital in south central Texas, she passed on her knowledge of caring for older adults as well as other important subjects to young nurses.

“My mother, who was one of 15 children, always had me around my grandparents and older adults,” Dawson said.  “So, the elderly, care giving, death and dying were a natural part of my growing up.  When I decided to become a nurse, the natural fit for me was to work towards becoming a geriatric nurse practitioner (GNP).”

Already with a background in teaching, it was an easier jump to her position as an assistant clinical professor in the ASU Nursing Department.  She joined the faculty after taking a pharmacology class at ASU toward her GNP certification.

“One of the instructors teaching the class asked me if I had ever thought about teaching,” Dawson said.  “I told them that I taught all the time, but I had never thought about actually ‘teaching.’  So, I applied, interviewed and got hired.”

Currently, Dawson instructs mainly first-year RN students in geriatric care and supervises their clinical rotations at the Baptist Memorials Center and its Sagecrest Alzheimer’s Care Center in San Angelo. 

“I love teaching first year students!” Dawson said.  “The Nursing Department has expanded my role and opportunities in being able to teach students about geriatrics, the older and frail elder population.  It will not matter what setting they choose or what field of nursing they enter, they are going to see my population of patients.  It is important to me that they have some understanding of how to help older adults.”

That dedication to her students and ASU has been noticed as Dawson was nominated for a 2010 ASU President’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Leadership/Service.

As a certified geriatric nurse practitioner with a background in geriatric care and research, Dawson was also a logical choice to be named director of the new Caregiver Research Institute at ASU’s recently-opened Center for Community Wellness, Engagement and Development.        

“I have been given an incredible opportunity to do something with my passion,” Dawson said.  “The situation we have today in regards to care giving is unprecedented.  So, providing nursing care to older adults, helping caregivers decrease stress and researching ways in which nurses can help the aging population will be the focus of the institute.”

Her position at the institute also gives Dawson the opportunity to be on the front lines for the rapidly approaching “silver tsunami” entrance of the baby boomer generation into geriatric care starting in 2011. 

“We’ve got resources, which will probably be dwindling over the next few years, and we have many providers who may have to change the way they practice,” Dawson said.  “But, for the most part, what we don’t have is the ‘connective tissue’ that can produce an individualized plan of care for these caregivers.  It is it truly amazing what is out there in the way of help that caregivers do not know about or know how to access.  Caregiver access and understanding will be two of the major issues that we will try to tackle at the institute.  We want caregivers to leave us saying ‘OK that works.  I get it, I understand, that makes me feel better.’”

And, the institute is not just for professional caregivers, it is primarily for family members and informal caregivers who are caring for elderly parents, spouses or other family members.

“The focus out of this office will be older adults and frail elders,” Dawson said.  “People didn’t used to live this long, and we don’t know how to deal with it.  There are a bazillion different scenarios and we are simply not prepared for this unprecedented tsunami that is coming.  So, hopefully some of that help will come out of this institute.”

In recognition of the influence Dawson has already had on local geriatric care, she was honored with the 2009 Community Partner Award from the Area Agency on Aging of the Concho Valley.  

Dawson’s husband, Michael, is a landman who works from their ranch in Sanderson.  They have three grown kids, Autry, 29, Katheryn, 27, and Adam, 26.