5 reasons to choose aged care as a career pathway as a registered nurse

Charles Sturt University Associate Professor of Nursing Maree Bernoth

“My role working as a registered nurse in aged care has always been extremely exciting, sometimes challenging and very satisfying”, says Charles Sturt University (CSU) Associate Professor of Nursing Maree Bernoth.

Associate Professor Maree Bernoth has been involved with the residential aged care (RAC) sector as a registered nurse and academic for more than 37 years.

In an episode in the CSU podcast series she explores the nation’s critical skills shortages in aged care and shares her own experience of the rewards of working in the sector.

“There’s roughly a 35,000-person shortfall of aged care workers each year. I wanted to share a very real depiction of how rewarding and empowering it is to work with older people to motivate people to join the sector and reduce this workforce gap.

“Aged care work is constantly evolving and really challenges you. As an aged care nurse, you make a tremendous difference in the lives of the residents and clients as you are largely an autonomous practitioner.”

Here are five top reasons from Associate Professor Bernoth on why to choose aged care as a career pathway.

  1. Autonomy

This is possible as a registered nurse [working in aged care] because you’re largely autonomous as a practitioner. There’s not always allied health professionals or doctors to consult with in residential aged care so older people have to rely on your ability as a registered nurse to assess their needs and implement appropriate strategies for their care. When you get this right, the registered nurse can make a big difference in the quality of life of the older person.

  1. Using your full scope of practice

It’s up to you as a registered nurse to ensure that the person is receiving the best care possible and families are included in and kept informed of that care. This responsibility calls on the registered nurse to use their full scope of practice. For example, using all your senses to assess the person, along with all your knowledge of the person – who they are, their life stories, their interests and their idiosyncrasies to identify any challenges and then be able to instigate strategies to intervene appropriately.

  1. Diversity in practice

Working in aged care gives you extensive exposure to the many and varied medical conditions that patients can experience. For example, you learn how to identify whether a resident has a medical emergency happening which can manifest in confusion and then it’s your role to identify the multiplicity of possible causes. Your responsibility to then intervene gives you the ability to bring that person back to their normal cognitive function which enables their ability to interact with other residents, their families and friends. In short, you reinstate their quality of life.

  1. Relationships

Another incredibly rewarding aspect of working in aged care is the relationships that you build. You build them with the residents and they become like family as you’re working with them all the time. It’s not like acute care where patients get well and go home. Instead you get the privilege of getting to know them and their family and you also have the privilege of supporting them in their last days as they move towards their death.

  1. A culture of curiosity

I also really enjoyed working with other nurses and aged care workers in what became a culture of curiosity. Staff wanted to know what was happening with the residents and what was going on and how they could best intervene. Questions were constantly asked and staff were thirsty for answers. They would then take this knowledge to use in enhancing the lives of the older people they were working with. The teamwork was also fantastic in many of the places I worked and the extensive gratitude of everyone involved – the residents, the families and the staff was our reward.

“You also need to have foresight, flexibility, creativity, along with a sense of humour to manage some of the more challenging situations that you’re confronted with,” Associate Professor Bernoth says.

The current workforce shortage in aged care is critical, with roughly 65,000 aged care workers who leave the sector each year. These rates of attrition are another huge challenge for the sector.

“The RAC and community aged care sectors are in an exciting but also challenging time. It’s exciting because we now have the outcomes from the Royal Commission being implemented and rolled out. There’s an opportunity for nurses in aged care to be contributing to those changes and being part of what’s happening in aged care. These changes will hopefully encourage more nurses and RNs to the sector and also to stay in the sector,” Associate Professor Bernoth says.

The 2022 Charles Sturt podcast series, Critical Workforces, features experts at the top of their fields who provide first-hand accounts of workforce satisfaction in their sectors.

Addressing the Aged Care Crisis features Associate Professor of Nursing in the Charles Sturt School of Nursing, Paramedicine, and Healthcare Sciences Associate Professor Maree Bernoth and a private citizen who shares her story on navigating the aged care system for her mother.

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