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Know your roles

There is room for many different interests in the field of aged care. 

There is a big demand for aged-care nurses, and it’s set to continue.

“As a nation, we continue to face a critical nurse shortage – 20,000 nurses are currently needed to meet the challenges of the nation’s rapidly ageing population over the next 20 years,” Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, federal secretary Lee Thomas says. “This shortage of supply means there are ongoing employment opportunities for aged-care nurses.”

As the University of Sydney’s professor Sally Tracy says, nurses are at the front end of the task of caring for the elderly. “The world population is ageing, and ageing comes with challenges for adaptation and the guidance required by these people is best provided by nurses and doctors and allied health working together,” Tracy says.

This situation makes aged care is a good career option for graduates. “For many nursing graduates and assistants in nursing (AINs) aged care is a wonderful and rewarding entry into the nursing profession, caring for vulnerable, older people [who are] often suffering a multitude of complex health issues,” Thomas says.

She says aged care is an extremely challenging but rewarding environment. “Unlike nursing in acute settings, where they’re treating patients for shorter periods, aged-care nurses see their patients every day. They get to know them, sharing their highs and lows and developing relationships with them, as well as bonding with their families. This can be really fulfilling and makes the job worthwhile,” Thomas explains.

Tracy mentions even more advantages of working in the field. “You have far more autonomy than you do under a medically directed hospital unit; you really are the leader of teams of other nurses and support workers,” she says. “You work in a truly interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary environment where there is collegiate respect.

“I have worked in a lot of different contexts throughout my career, hospital, community, aged care, mental health, obstetrics ... and I have to say that I use more of what I can do in this context than I have ever been able to do in any other.

“For a nurse who wants to use most of their skills and most of their energy in their work, this is the place to be.”

But what are the specific roles nurses can perform in aged care? And how are they rewarding for the people taking them on? To find out, Nursing Review takes a look at a few areas where people are engaged in aged care and how the professionals feel about their roles.

Student

Jon Corke is an enrolled nurse and is studying an accelerated bachelor of nursing program at the University of Technology, Sydney. The core subject Nursing Care of the Older Person has him thinking about how to apply aged care skills in the emergency department.

“I work in emergency and aged care is very prevalent in there because you get a lot of elderly patients come through and I think some of the acute and chronic illnesses that come in are quite interesting,” he says.

There is a stigma that work to do with elderly people is boring, he says, but that’s not something he believes. Corke says he wants to treat elderly patients in the emergency department with a greater understanding. He’d also like to share the knowledge he’s gained. “I would like to … try to educate other nurses who may not be as educated in terms of aged care and what we should be doing.” This would include ensuring that there is an understanding through the emergency workforce that there are a range of illnesses that elderly people can encounter.

He says more enthusiasm in the way aged-care nursing is addressed in tertiary education and opening up some clinical responsibilities in the field to younger nurses would be positive moves forward.

Hospital-based nurse

Registered nurse Hiroko Wakabayashi works in a dementia unit in Royal Melbourne Hospital’s geriatric ward. She entered the unit because she was interested in palliative care for sufferers of the disease.

“I became a nurse because I wanted to work in aged care or geriatric care,” Wakabayashi says.

After graduating university, she started her career in the oncology and neurology wards. She then decided to take her knowledge and skills in palliative care and move into her desired field of aged care. An interest in dementia in particular led her to find a position in the field and gave her a passion for the area.

“I thought it would be something different,” she says. “I knew that palliative care in the dementia patients was simpler than the palliative care in the oncology patient, but I also found that dementia care is really unique and now I’m more interested in [it].”

She says she enjoys working in the geriatric ward and finds the work interesting; there is more of a focus on how to approach patients rather than on the medical problem.

She says she would suggest other nurses enter the field if they have an interest in dementia or palliative care.

Aged-care nurse

Michelle Woods, an assistant in nursing at UnitingCare Elizabeth Gates Aged Care, says she enjoys her varied role, encompassing everything from nursing to physiotherapy and general care.

She says she entered the field after discovering whilst caring for her dying father-in-law that she had a natural ability to look after older people. “One of the nurses there was watching me help care for him and she suggested I do the course.”

Seven years later, Woods is still interested in aged care and says she loves her job. She enjoys becoming closer with the residents and their families. “You get to meet different families that come through, they take you in as a part of their family because we’re continually working with their parent or family member.

“I just love the residents and how I think I can make a difference in their life,” she says.

Woods is interested in using her skills that she has gained from working with elderly patients in the future as a physiotherapist, but for now is enjoying working as an AIN in aged care as it is a good fit for her in her current stage of life, looking after teenage children.

Manager

Leanne Mackey, general manager responsible for clinical care at Glendale Aged Care, says being appreciated makes her work worthwhile.

“Most elderly people are so grateful for everything you do for them and that’s why it’s so rewarding,” she says.

Mackey is responsible for ensuring that all staff are implementing the best possible resident care. She sees her role as a manager lets her experience even more of the benefits that come from working in aged care. Also, like most others in the field, she likes connecting with patients’ families.

Mackey says another reason why aged care is a great field is the many opportunities for advancement. “One day I was working as a registered nurse and then I was covering for the manager who was on leave, and then the next minute I managed to get into a [management role].

“You’ve got the opportunity to make a difference, especially in my role; you can make decisions or do innovative things.

“If you’ve got a love or a genuine affection for the elderly you just get so much joy out of the role.”

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One comment

  1. I am an Older Persons Nurse Practitioner, currently working in a rural setting in an in reach role in the community. I have been endorsed with a generalist scope of practice to enable me to access the patient or client throughout the continuum of care. This enables me to access roles in the Emergency Department, acute care, sub acute, community or Residential Care.
    The nurse pracitioner role, in this specialty is one of the broadest and most complex as there are often multiple co morbidities and syndromes tied in with psychosocial and ethical considerations.
    This most interesting and rewarding area of expertise has allowed me to provide the best care that I can to the group of health care recipients who need the most care.

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