Gordana Dermody: Building Bridges to Implement Change

By: Hannah Lipton
Fall 2014 Communications Intern

Dr. Gordana Dermody

After meeting Gordana Dermody in person, I could sense the commitment that she has towards aging adults.

At a young age, Ms. Dermody knew that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of older adults. Her passion started when she first volunteered in a nursing home. The experience of working with nurses and older adults contributed to her life-long goal of improving the nursing care of older adults, and advocating for changes in the field that would improve the quality of life for the aging population.

In order to fulfill this goal, Dermody first earned a Baccalaureate degree in Nursing form Saint Anthony College of Nursing in Rockford, Illinois. She then received her Masters of Science in Nursing, and a post-Master’s in nursing education from Saint Xavier University in Chicago. She is also Nationally Board Certified as a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL). This past spring, Dermody completed the UW-Milwaukee Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology, in addition to the PhD program at the UWM College of Nursing. She is now working as an assistant clinical professor at Washington State University, offering two will courses for the fall 2015 semester: “Transition to Practice” and “Organizational Systems and Leadership.”

In preparation for her first pilot study, Ms. Dermody is working closely with Dr. Christine Kovach, PhD, RN, FAAN at UWM’s College of Nursing to examine the barriers nurses may encounter in providing mobility to hospitalized older adults. With this study Dermody hopes to uncover interventions that will promote mobility, stave off functional decline, and unnecessary negative health consequences for older adults.

How has the Certificate in Applied Gerontology helped you with the pilot study?

I have been able to understand that nursing issues concerning older adults transcend not only biophysical issues, but have far-reaching consequences that intersect with aging policies and the social science realm. The Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology will demonstrate that I am committed to improving the knowledge development that could improve the care older adults receive.”

You don’t live in Wisconsin. Why did you choose UWM?

“There is a very strong sense of community with the gerontology, nursing and social work programs here on campus. Everything is connected with a multitude of knowledge and research. In addition, I was very attracted to the work of Dr. Kovach, who has made great contributions in gerontology. In addition, UWM has many online classes. I, in fact, completed the entire certificate program online”

Why do you think the study of aging is important in this day and time?

“There is a rapidly increasing number of older adults, by 2030 there will be 74 million older adults above the age of 65. Older adults deserve the same quality of healthcare as everyone else. Within the larger group of older adults, there are many subgroups, including immigrants, different cultures, gender differences, etc. For instance, while I was in Japan, I was in just an ordinary store that sold tea plates, pots, cups, etc. And while in that store I noticed that they also sold specialty adaptive silverware for older adults who may have had a stroke, or difficulty using regular silverware. This wasn’t a specialty store or anything, just your average store. We need more stores like that here in the United States. Better quality of life may be achieved by integrating the unique needs of older adults into every aspects of society, including how we provide nursing and medical care.”

How do you think you can implement change in geriatrics?

“A future trend for nursing is to consider the urgent need for the translation of geriatric focused evidence into healthcare policy and the bedside. In addition, to argue the case for change in policy, nursing scientists need to be more than credible. To tip the policy scale, nursing researchers must produce sufficient, geriatric focused, research-generated evidence. I feel I can contribute to the change in providing research-generated evidence through inquiry into issues in nursing that may contribute to older adults not receiving the nursing care they need to maintain their independence.”

How do you like teaching?

“I find it very rewarding to see how my students’ knowledge expands throughout the course I teach. I view myself as a facilitator of learning. Adult learners have unique needs, and this includes the need for feedback from their instructors as soon as possible. I had to get used to that, and was resistant to using a smart phone to text with students. Informally, I decided to test if I would be inundated with student phone calls and text if I gave them my cell phone number. I found that students tended to be very respectful, and only texted me to alert me to an e-mail they had sent or if they had an emergency. I also noticed that they became less anxious about becoming stuck, and not knowing what to do. So I still give out my cell phone number, it really seems to promote the student-teacher collaboration. One of my favorite things to teach nursing students is about the importance of promoting mobility in their hospitalized older patient to prevent functional decline and other negative health consequences.”

Why do you think you are a good fit for this career?

“That’s a very philosophical question. I’m very passionate about improving the hospitalized care that older adults receive. My job is to build a bridge so that other people can cross over it. Many bridges were built before me that I am currently standing on and ones that I have already crossed over. I feel as though I was chosen for this career, that I am right where I am meant to be.”

When asked that last question, Ms. Dermody read a poem to me that she carries with her. After her reading it, I understood what she meant by building bridges.

The poem is entitled “The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Dromgoogle.

“An old man going a lone highway,

Came, at the evening cold and gray,

To a chasm vast and deep and wide.

Through which was flowing a sullen tide

The old man crossed in the twilight dim,

The sullen stream had no fear for him;

But he turned when safe on the other side

And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way;

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,

Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head;

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followed after me to-day

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm that has been as naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”


Interested in being part of our “Certificate Alumni Spotlight” series? Contact Rachelle Alioto at ralioto@uwm.edu