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Reshaping nursing students’ view on aged care

A new project has been launched to provide training and support for nurse educators and facilitate clinical placements for second-and third-year nursing students.

The University of Canberra was awarded $2.1m as part of the Commonwealth’s Aged Care Nursing Clinical Placements Program to strengthen the nursing workforce in aged care settings. 

The Clinical Placements with Older People (CPOP) program, scheduled to run from semester two 2023 until the end of 2024, seeks to promote nurse specialisation in caring for older people.

"We need to get onto it – the industry and our older people just don't have time to wait for this to be fixed," Stephanie Munk, Lead Project Manager and Registered Nurse, said.

"This is about reaching the students before they graduate.

"By training clinical facilitators in gerontology, we can enhance the quality of clinical placements and inspire nursing students to consider aged care as a fulfilling career path."

It's customary for student nurses to partake in a clinical placement in aged care during their first year of studies.

But Ms Munk said that aged care tended to be overshadowed by other nursing specialties and was often viewed as providing basic' nursing care.

Nursing academics and curriculum greatly influence students' attitudes towards caring for older people, especially during the early stages of their education.

But graduate nurses report feeling unprepared for working with older people due to a curriculum focused on acute care and a lack of gerontological expertise among nursing academics.

Plus, clinical experiences in residential aged care facilities often prioritise fundamental nursing care but do not adequately address the complex needs of older people.

"Aged care placements don't tend to make much of a mark on student nurses. We want to change that perception," Ms Munk said

"We need to dispel the myths and negative perceptions about aged care and provide positive experiences to attract more nurses to work with older people.

"Ageism can be a negative factor influencing nursing student's views of aged care, but we can address it through curriculum changes and promoting the rewarding aspects of working with older people."

The project will have a dual focus on nursing education: training facilitators with specialised knowledge in gerontology and enhancing aged care placements.

The training program for facilitators will encompass areas such as clinical facilitation and mentorship, knowledge in gerontology, and promoting cultural safety and humility.

The team hopes these mentors will emphasise the challenging and rewarding aspects of working with older people and ignite a passion for aged care.

Distinguished Professor of Health and Ageing Diane Gibson said supporting nursing students to develop skills to respond to the complex clinical needs of this population was vital to improving care.

The CPOP program will supplement the existing people and placements while attracting more student nurses and ensuring they have access to training to create quality placements.

Professor Gibson said that teaching people about what's involved in the care of older people encouraged them to feel confident to take up those roles in the workplace.

"Once those additional facilitators are trained, they're trained for keeps, so they'll be able to support future cohorts of nursing students," she said.

"As the culture and structure of aged care changes, we expect see the negative consequences of long term understaffing reduced.

"It's a way of ensuring increased resilience in the system."

The CPOP program has brought together expertise in research, education, and leadership in gerontological nursing from universities such as Edith Cowan, Wollongong and Curtin University. 

The program is evidence-based on the Gerontological Nursing Competencies program and the Murra Mullangari First Nations cultural safety program from CATSINaM (Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives).

Professor Gibson said these programs showed that teaching people about the care of older people encourages them to take up those roles.

"Because you can't be what you can't see."

Conjoint Professor of Gerontological Nursing Kasia Bail and Professor Tracey Moroney from Curtin University will present a webinar on the project on the 17th of July.

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