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Can working in aged care produce better nurses?

Research by academics at Western Sydney University has found that nursing undergrads who work in aged care while completing their studies are learning valuable skills and enter the profession ahead of their graduate peers.

The research surveyed new graduate nurses who were previously employed as undergraduate assistants in nursing in an aged care facility and found that they believed aged care work improved their communication skills, understanding of the health system as a whole and, importantly, their time keeping.

“It made me far more comfortable in just communicating with patients and family,” said one participant.

“It made me confident in my ability to care for patients to some extent, which relieved any anxiety when starting as an RN,” said another. “I believed I was one step ahead of many other nurses who had no prior experience in the field. I was also comfortable quickly building rapport with patients.”

Lead author Cris Algoso spoke with Aged Care Insite to discuss why aged care work can produce better nurses.

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  1. I would love to see new nurse graduates working within the residential aged care sector. Their knowledge serves to refresh that of their colleagues and the care environment in the facility.
    Bur, a new registered nurse graduate will not be able to function effectively in the aged care environment as it currently exists.
    The care needs of residents and family are far to complex for an inexperienced RN given the current demands of the aged care RN. These require an RN with considerable experience in the medical nursing care environment. The aged care RN also requires considerable organisational skills and even so, because of limited aged care funding, is frequently needing to work overtime in order to meet their professional responsibilities.
    Certainly, given the right supports, a new graduate working in the aged care residential environment will gain valuable experience in caring for residents with complex nursing care needs. I support this.
    For this to happen, however, graduate RNs would need to be employed, not as is currently the state, but as a graduate supported by an experienced RN. For this to happen, additional funding would be required either at the training end or within the aged care environment. In addition, the staffing model would need to change to include case allocation where the new graduate is responsible, along with an experienced AIN to provide all aspects of holistic care for an allocated group of residents as is the case in the acute care environment.
    As an experienced nurse educator and aged care manager, I have always encouraged the employment of student nurses within the aged care environment as, not only do they gain valuable experience in identifying care needs and providing care for the resident, but also, they are able to apply this knowledge in their undergraduate courses.
    I must emphasise here that I am fully supportive of university training for Registered Nurses. It is our aged care funding which does not provide adequately for the new graduate to function as a graduate within the aged care sector.
    I would like to see a fully funded graduate year for Registered Nurses to practice as Registered Nurses in the aged care environment.

    • I fully agree with your statement. As an aged care EN we need experienced RNs to assist us with our duties. I wish the government would see working in aged care as a valued career instead of the last resort. The residents notice when we have inexperienced staff on. Aged care ratios must become law for changes.

  2. I am not surprised by the results of this research I am one of those that trained the old way and I wouldn’t change it as I have had the most wonderful career. You learnt on the job and quickly picked up the skills needed. I wouldn’t have been able to do nursing now as I wouldn’t have got enough points to go to uni back in the day. It also reminds me of talking to a check out assistant a number of years ago. She was doing her Nursing degree (how we got onto the subject I can’t remember) and she was telling me about a shift she had done at an aged care facility and how much she had got out of that shift to assist her in her nursing and she was planning on doing more. She thought that others should be encouraged to do nursing shifts.

    I understand students have to work during their studies and it is convenient to continue with their school jobs but the experience they get doesn’t assist after graduation, where as some shifts in aged care would enable them to see the side of nursing that is the real thing: full patient loads, dealing with resident, family and other staff. It may even help some decide if nursing is really right for them before they graduate.

    I don’t know that the academic and practical balance of the nursing course is quite right yet. Nursing is a practical profession and I think more nursing students should be encouraged to look to do nursing shifts.