Why choose aged care?

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An aged care nurse explains the attractions of the field.

When you think of aged care, what comes to mind? Old helpless people, showers, making beds, smelly nursing homes (the types you see being sanctioned on TV)? Let’s face it, who wants to work in a nursing home. We are told it is where you go to end your career not start your career. Well, put aside your stereotypical thoughts and keep reading.

Aged care nursingThere is such a shortage of young energetic nurses in this field. In fact, it is very rare that you find a new grad going down the aged care path. The situation has become so bad that even the universities have changed their curriculum.

Once upon a time (not that long ago), you used to do a semester of aged care in first year. That was your basic nursing skills taught right there. How to make a bed, shower, simple wound management, TPRs, BP, etc. When I went to have a look at what universities are doing now … some don’t even have gerontology in their core subjects; it is an elective. And all the universities don’t teach gerontology until third year, when you have already made up your mind where you would like to head with your career. Most new grads don’t even know that you can do a new graduate program in aged care. Yes you can (I did it eight years ago through aged care career pathways).

No wonder no-one chooses aged care as a career. Why would you when other specialities are portrayed as more exciting?

Well, I’ll tell you why. No matter what field you work in, you will end up looking after the elderly, unless you specialise in midwifery or paediatrics. 80% of hospital patients are elderly. I found that out during my training when most of the wards I visited were full of geriatrics anyway. The other thing is when you work on a ward, let’s say orthopaedics, you specialise in that field, you concentrate on that area, only see the patient for a short time, then send them on their merry way, hopefully never to see them again.

When you work in an aged care facility, you have to know it all. It is exceptionally comprehensive. The patients (or residents) have a multitude of issues. And they are there for the long haul, so as an aged care nurse, you need to have knowledge in everything, otherwise, you are not providing holistic care.

The type of things you need to know are: mental health nursing, neurology, wound management, drug and alcohol rehab nursing, orthopaedics, respiratory, cardiac, urology, gastroenterology, pharmacology, palliative care, rheumatology, emergency medicine, gynaecology, diabetes management, stoma management and much more. On top of all this, you also have to have some insight into and knowledge of some of these allied health areas: OT, physiotherapy, speech pathology, dietitian, social work and counselling, OH&S, fire safety officer.

As I said before,  it is very comprehensive. For those who think you would lose skills working in an aged care facility,  it is the opposite. It may not be as technical as acute care nursing, but honestly, the only thing you don’t do that the hospital staff do is cannulate and work a drip pump, otherwise, we do everything hospital staff get to do. We also get slightly more of a say in what treatments our residents get as opposed to hospital patients. You get to work very closely with GPs and they discuss with you what is the best treatment your resident needs, rather than telling you what your patient’s treatment will be. The buck basically stops with you. You are the advocate for the resident.

The relationships you build with the residents are remarkable. How many people can say they have 44 grandparents (or however many are in the home)? Each and every resident touches your heart. For me, I get very attached to the demented ones (don’t ask me why, they just make me laugh the most). I’m sure you get attached to patients on the ward, but the reality is they are just in the acute setting for a very short time. Some of our residents have been with us for many years, so you can imagine the bond you develop with the resident and their family.

Last but not least, it is incredible (and surprising to many) how rewarding it is. It is true nursing the way it was supposed to be. Caring for every aspect of the patient, not just one area. When you get a thank you from a resident or a relative and their face lights up, you get this warm and fuzzy feeling that you just can’t beat. You have made their life that little bit more bearable and made them comfortable in their final moments. I can tell you there is no greater honour and nothing more special.

When choosing your specialty as you are about to graduate from uni or are seeking a new area to nurse in, don’t forget there is a specialty that greatly needs you and you may enjoy embarking on the journey of aged care nursing.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about aged care nursing? What are your feelings about it?

Source of photo: (www.abc.net.au/reslib/200707/r163434_602202.jpg)

23 COMMENTS

  1. In support of Aged Care Clap clap to this item, ‘Why Choose Aged Care’. Everything said is just what know of and what I experience.
    The word ‘honour’ indeed! I am honoured each and every day to be making the days of older citizens just that little bit more bright. I know I do. I love it and do it with genuine care and kindness. The reward is huge and I would not do my nursing anywhere else but with older people now. I am not an ‘old’ nurse yet either. Perhaps I am a rare thing that has experienced the true joy of serving and giving to mankind in the resthome type setting.
    The sentence with all the ‘ologies’ pertaining to what we need to know something of. Ain’t that the truth. Honestly, you can’t be any old ning nong doing this field unless you are dedicated to longoing learning, have the utmost respect for older people and have the desire to get better at your work. What a joy it is.

  2. good blog it’s so good to see and hear positive stuff about aged care nursing. The first nursing job I ever had was as (what is now termed) an AIN when I was 16! In spite of all the difficulties of it and believe me back in 1973 aged care was pretty horrendous stuff – I liked it. Me and my sister who is also a nurse and always worked in aged care always have a good laugh about what sort of dementing aged care patient we will be because there was definitely (in my experience) different types of aged personalities. Fascinating stuff even though I prefer (and nurse) the other end of the lifespan, my interest in mental health makes aged care just as fascinating

  3. Many I know think of aged care as looking after incontinent, demented, useless people. They must be looking at themselves in their own futures! I have spent years in aged care ( at one stage 30 hours a week in a nursing home, while also doing 40 hours a week in intensive care!).
    Yes, there are many who with age have lost their memories, and reasoning, and their hold on reality. There are also many who are full of life, and able to recall and give to us descriptions of a life gone by, a lifetime of phenomenal memories, and their wisdom. It takes a lifetime to learn some things, so you need someone who has lived a lifetime. Some of the wisest people I ever met were in nursing homes, as patients. They deserved better than to end up there, but many nursing homes are run by caring people, so that is the goal – give excellent care every day. Learn all you can, and remember the lives gone by -(as often the families have died off, or have forgotten these people). Give them a reason to enjoy the time they have left, by making them look forward to the next conversation with you.

  4. AGED CARE As someone who is deeply involved in the because we care campaign I can tell you that staff working in AGED CARE are under immense pressure right now .We all count it a great privelege to be able to Nurse our frail elderly .We learn so much from our residents.I had the joy of Nursing a lovely gent who used to be an organiser with a mining Union .Mr N used to give me lots of tips and encouragement always used to like to hear about what was going on with Nurses Union .This is what a lot of people forget that the elderly may be in a facility but they still have rights and can make a contribution.You only have to see the joy that grandkids get when they come in to see their relatives.Nurses working in AGED CARE are advocates not only for themselves but very much for the residents they care for .

  5. thank you congratulations on a very informative article! thanks! As a student nurse, I am searching for options for the new grad program. If not for this article, i would not know that there is a new grad program in age care. thank you for that. I just recently had a rotation in age care psychiatry and i have enjoyed it. Never thought i would like it for i had envisioned myself working in pediatrics. And now knowing that there is a new grad program in age care, would definitely be an option for me. But, i wonder how many place do offer such transition program for new grads in age care?
    Thank you again for an informative article.
    sincererly, bituin

    • Could anyone tell me please where to inquire about aged care and other course requirements to be subsidised by government and what the grad programs really offer and where to find one (best in northern suburbs of Melbourne). Is there any employment agency helping new aged care grads? Thank you so much.

  6. Bituin, It is very nice to know you are considering a career in aged care. The new grad program options you have are the following…. Anglicare Homes and Bupa Care homes do their own new Grad programs internally, so If you apply for a job with these providers they will take you on board their career pathways. If you look at the bipa care website: http://www.bupcare.com.au you will see a section for the new grad program and who to contact. There are no specific number of plaements anyone who applies gets a placement provided you are hired by the company. The other thing you can do is apply for a job with any provider and ask them to send you to the aged care career pathways new grad program. This program is government run, once again there are no specific numbers of placements anyone can do it you just have to be working in aged care to do it. Please do think about joining aged care, you won’t look back, it is a truely fabulous field 🙂

  7. I finished uni 2 years ago, but didn’t get a new grad position. Eventually I got an RN position in a Nursing Home. I have not looked back. I can’t even imagine not working in a nursing home anymore! I can’t really believe the turnaround my mind has had, as I never wanted to work Medical because of the “old people”! I’ve discovered a real passion for the elderly that just can’t be shaken. They have so many experiences and love that you just can’t help but respect and love them back. You can learn so much from our older generations. Just the smiles you get from giving them a hug first thing in the morning or last thing at night, makes you feel so good. I am learning so many things from working in a nursing home, and definitely agree with the article. I find that the best way to look after my residents is to look at what they need holistically – diet, behaviour management, medication management, physio, OT, diabetes, tracheostomies… The list doesn’t end in what you learn to do and how it will affect your resident’s care. In just 10 months I’ve learnt so much, and I know I have a long way to go. But I look forward to a long career as a carer of the elderly, and working for their rights at this end of their lives. 🙂

  8. ” …… working for their rights at the end of their lives “.

    Yes, yes, I’m thinking hard about that one line…..

    Sometimes, we as ‘ ground staff ‘ have to live with ourselves, for the decisions that management ( of our Aged Care Facilities ), and the doctors make. As nurses, we are to carry out instructions, without fear or favour.

    At my employment facility, a number of the nursing staff are ‘ a little upset ‘ over the way a particular resident has been ‘ left to die ‘.

    He spent weeks on a PEG feed regime, only to have his doctor say: ” CEASE FEED ” & ” COMMENCE SYRINGE DRIVER REGIME “.

    Thus, our resident is NBM, and not being fed, AND no provision for FLUIDS !!!

    His life is ‘ ticking away ‘. How long can a person last this way ? He already weighs only about 30kg. Absolute skin & bone.

    He still speaks to the staff. He asks for the little things that give him some comfort. His Rosary Beads; his TV remote control, and oddly enough, his electric shaver.

    Every shift I come onto, I hope to hear of his passing. Day after day…. he is still with us.

    All the nursing staff can’t understand why his doctor AND FAMILY have chosen such a cruel course of action.

    A complaint was lodged with management, however, the response was, well, that’s what the family and doctor want.

    Late one night, I spoke softly to him….. ” ( name with held ), do you still want to keep living like this ? ”

    ” No “.

    ” Is there anything I can do for you ? ”

    ” Why am I here ? “.

    • I think you shouldn’t be afraid to go to a two-year school and then go on and finish at a 4 year. It’s a lot cheaper and you get the 4 year exp after you get your license, which means for most of us we get about a 2x pay increase! That makes school a lot easier and then you don’ t wind up with too much debt or whatever. I took my first two years and now I work for Providence hospitals and they will not only pay for most of the school with UW (l live in Washington, USA), they bring in profs to the hosp for classes in the eves. That is really cool, there is really no reason to sweat out 4 years before getting started. The other thing is that there are a lot of directions you can point your career and you will have the opportunity to get involved in that area of nursing before you get too far along. I am really excited for you though nursing is really a good line of work if you have a heart for it. Make sure its not just about good money either because it isn’t always really worth the money and you will be disappointed if you expect something besides being a servant most of the time. Good luck I’m sure you will do great in school and in your career!

  9. This man finally passed away, after about three weeks of no food or fluids.

    At vthe time of his passing, he was using 250 mg. Morphine a day. It was almost, that he lived off it ??

  10. NearlyLeft…
    As a person myself who works in Aged Care I certainly understand where you are coming from though we also have to look on the other end of the spectrum…The resident.
    We get to know our residents on a very personal level as the carers who share everyday with them.
    From experience with my own residents a very high percentage of them no longer want to be here, and they quite willingly express this. Most have advanced care directives which state they are NFR (not for resuscitation) and in many they do not want a “peg feed” or any other forms of treatment which may prolong their life. In the end it comes down to what the Resident wants, in those cases where the Resident is not able to make that decision for themselves and have an enduring power of attorney, we as the carers can only sit by and hope that that person is truly making the decision based on what the Resident would have liked.
    For me, it is the quality of life a person has that is important. What sort of life is it where you can not speak for yourself, lay in a bed or sit in a chair doing nothing all day, pain because of the illnesses or conditions you are suffering…A peg feed? I know myself that if I would never want such an intrusive treatment if I was in my later stages of life…
    We must remember that these people are elderly, they are in our Aged Care Homes not because they want to be but because of their deteriorating condition they have to be…death is something we must expect in our line of work, the people which we are caring for are not being cared for because they are in good health.
    In your case we need to look at the underlying conditions of this person, if he was on 250mg of morphine a day this man was in a lot of pain…would you want to live like that?
    As “ground staff” carers all we can do is everything we can to make end-of-life stages of a resident as comfortable as we can, we must understand it is a process that is inevitable, dying is never easy, for some it comes quicker and painless for others it may be a long, painful process, but that’s why we are there. We are there for them in this time and should feel honoured that we are the ones by their side in this final stage of their life.

  11. Im a first year student nurse and my university in queensland is using aged care as our first clinical placement. =) its really satisfying ad I have learnt so much. The residents are wonderful and I think the steryotypes is what is giving aged care homes a bad name.

  12. Just wondering, I’m an AIN in aged care – what is the diffrence an AIN in a hospital who has cert111? we both do the same thing. The reason I’m asking is that I went to our local hospital to apply for an AIN position and was told that I’m an aged care worker not an AIN??? We do the same things as one would in a hospital.

  13. Hi guys, thanks for this article, a great read!

    I am currently studying a certificate in Aged Care and hope to be finished by the end of this year. My question is how similar can the field be to disability work?

    I worked with disabled clients many years ago and recently tried to re-enter the field while continuing to complete my Certificate in Aged Care and I just could not go back to it. I am no worried that I may have made a mistake to study Aged Care.

    The reason I could not go back was I had some high risk situations in disability previously and now trying to return I just could not stomach the anticipation of what risks may occur at work.

    Can anyone tell me if this is at all a concern in the Aged Care Field? And if so where would I best be suited – a hostel, nursing home, retirement village?

  14. I work in two aged care facilities and oversee clinical care of 79 residents. I am paid $34 dollars per hour and am a full-time worker.
    I travel a total of 380km per week to cover both sites and my hourly rate is 34 dollars. I am the only RN and have an EN 2 and a 1/2 days per week.
    To try to cover all aspects of clinical care. I frequently work 12 hours per day and I leave work most days discouraged as I never get everything done that needs to be done.
    I get no overtime pay and receive multiple calls at home over the weekend regarding clinical issues.
    Obviously I get very tired and discouraged that no matter how many hours I work I never finish everything.
    Is this normal for aged care? I come from critical care and pediatric and I am currently studying aged care. My manager tells me that I get paid according to the enterprise agreement but my current pay is eight dollars less per hour than in a public hospital. Do I just continue to grin and bear it or am I being unfairly used?

    • Hi Cheryl,
      You are absolutely right. If you have hospital experience definitely you will go for the clinical details of the residents. Like me, I have 8 years of hospital experience as an overseas RN and recently started as an aged care RN. I never finish on time, automatically I am looking for the clinical history and the details. For me sometimes I do an extra hour without pay but it gives me a lot of satisfaction.

  15. I loved this article! I sums up exactly how I felt about working in aged care for 2 years. Our facility had 37 residents and I was proud to be a part of the team. I got to know our residents very, very well and that lead to being able to take care of them in a way that you just can’t do when you are on a hospital ward and you have those patients (most of whom you have just met that shift) for 8 or 10 hours.

    I think aged care nurses are underpaid and undervalued for what they do….but I have to say it’s the most rewarding and fulfilling nursing work I have ever done.

  16. Hi, this has been a great read. I am a third year nurse who did my new grad in aged care and although challenging at the beginning, grew to love it. I continued in aged care as an RN for another year and am now working in a public subacute ward. Although I am learning a lot of things, the nursing and physicality of being a general nurse is so draining! I am thinking of returning to aged care fulltime but don’t know if this is the best career move? Am I being blinded by the ease of the job? Need some advice from an experienced nurse 🙂

  17. I am still in school and am looking to be an aged care nurse when I get out. I really love helping old people and this article is great, it made me fully make my mind up about studying age care as soon as I get out of school.

  18. You spoke well. Some young graduates want to study aged care nursing, none is available in Nigeria my country and outside my country, its cost is very high compared to my income. If there is a scholarship to study such courses, I will be very ready and happy to go for it. Care for the aged is becoming important as statistics show that the population of aged will double by 2050.

  19. Thankyou for this amazing writing! Such a blessing to read and written in such grace. Love love love. I cannot wait to start working in Aged Care. PARTY WITH MY 44 GRANDPAS AND MAS.

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