Monthly Member Spotlight

Q&A with Sarah L. Szanton, PhD, RN, FGSA, from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore, Maryland

Sarah Szanton

Q; How long have you been a GSA member? What GSA member benefit do you like best and why?
A: I’ve been a GSA member since I was a PhD student and recommend that all PhD students with interest in aging should join. It is irreplaceable as a source of ideas, connections, and energy.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: I got interested in the field of aging because I practiced as a nurse practitioner providing house calls to older adults who were unable to leave their homes. Prior to that, I had only worked with younger adults.  During my PhD education, I got introduced to Linda Fried and Karen Bandeen Roche’s research on frailty which rocked my world.  To see the research behind the conditions I was seeing clinically was fascinating.

Q: Why is it important for other individuals to join GSA?
A: I’ve been coming to the GSA conferences since I was a PhD student and they are a highlight of my year. Being with that many people from around the world doing vital aging research and committed to improving the lives of all is so inspiring.

Q: Are you a member of a GSA Interest Group? If so, which ones?
A: I am part of the Nursing interest group and the environmental gerontology one.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: For the last two years, I’ve been Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. I still make time to do my research which involves 1) devising ways to measure structural racism and structural resilience across the life course 2) testing new adaptations of our CAPABLE program ( a program for older adults to be able to thrive in community by participating in occupational therapy, nursing and handyworker services) for new populations such as with people who are recently housed or people who have recently been discharged from hospital.
The non-research part of my life in being Dean is me trying to discern how to lead nursing, along with other disciplines, to elevate the health of the nation.  I strongly believe in life course approaches to aging and health so this also seems like working on aging but while leading others.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: My most memorable research experience was when the CAPABLE occupational therapists and nurses started to realize the power of CAPABLE and stop by my office to tell me.  We could tell early on that this program of putting older adults’ own goals first and helping them meet them along with goal-directed changes to their home environment was life changing.  People were starting to leave home freely who had not left their home in 2 years, or started volunteering in elementary schools because they could get dressed, bathe, and walk more easily.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: Find the projects that give you the most energy, and only work with people you like and respect.  Turn around and mentor junior faculty.  We are all in a long string of mentorship in which we are mentored and mentor others.

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