Peggy Burhenn, MS ’86, BS ’80, said she began to realize that healthcare providers need better training in caring for older adults as she watched her parents age. She found that clinicians made assumptions about their cognitive abilities and other aspects of their health.

As a clinical nurse specialist at City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, California, Burhenn trains oncology nurses how to care for older adults.

“Cancer in a 40-year-old is different than cancer in an 80-year-old,” she says. “The 80-year-old might have different complications and other healthcare issues that affect their quality of life, not related to cancer.”

Healthcare professionals tend to know their area of specialty well, she says, but often have not gotten much education in the science of gerontology. Yet older adults make up an increasingly large proportion of the U.S. population and will outnumber children for the first time in the country’s history by 2035, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Burhenn wants today’s nurses to get a strong foundation in caring for older adults, so she made a significant gift to the UIC College of Nursing, to establish an endowed professorship with a focus on gerontology.

“I would like there to be a specific focus on geriatrics,” she says. “To have a faculty member who can really take the science of gerontology and try to help nurses understand the aging process, what happens and how this affects treatment options.”

The professorship will be named for her mother, Winifred A. Weber, who passed away two years ago at age 93 and never had the opportunity to go to college.

“She would probably feel embarrassed to have something named after her, because she would feel like she wasn’t worthy,” Burhenn said. “She worked really hard to raise five kids with very few resources. I think she deserves to be credited.”