A novel final-year university placement is helping nursing students’ fast-track their transition into aged care.
One of the first in Australia, a final year placement program by the University of the Sunshine Coast (UniSC) and aged care provider Lutheran Services, could become a model for the sector.
The ‘Transition to Practice’ program provides UniSC Bachelor of Nursing Science students with an interest in a career in aged care with a final placement that incorporates hands-on-learning of clinical care for elderly residents.
“Usually, aged care placements occur in first year, where the emphasis is mostly on an introduction to general nursing, yet aged care residents have complex needs that require knowledgeable and skilful practitioners,” said project lead and UniSC Senior Lecturer in Nursing Dr John Rosenberg.
Targeted learning in the final year includes a series of lectures led by academics and industry professionals on topics such as dementia, falls prevention, wound management and end-of-life care.
“All critical issues for our students to become familiar with, to prepare them for careers as registered nurses in aged care,” Dr Rosenberg said.
A successful pilot at Cooinda Aged Care in Gympie has been expanded to include three Lutheran Services aged care sites across South East Queensland.
The program is a way of harnessing the passion of nursing students and providing an easier pathway into a rewarding area of aged care, according to UniSC.
Aged care is complex care
“Sometimes when I am teaching students, I ask them: ‘Do you want a career in aged care?’ and for a lot of students it’s not something that they’ve really considered – but aged care is complex care,” Dr Rosenberg said.
“You actually need to have students who are skilled and knowledgeable in aged care in order to work in aged care. A big part of this project has been to assist in that preparation.”
The benefits of this particular approach were in the preparation for readiness to practice, particularly focused on aged care,” Dr Rosenberg said.
“Most nursing students don’t have the opportunity to have their final placement in aged care. These students do and by undertaking the activities that we are, on top of their usual requirements, we’re hoping that they will be better prepared for a career as a registered nurse in aged care.”
Wendy Williams, a graduating students who secured a role with Lutheran Services, said that aged care, in particularly palliative care, was a career goal when she began her studies.
“It requires a lot of critical thinking to put your practices and education together to work out the optimal care for residents with complex needs – and that is ultimately hugely rewarding.”
The seminar sessions had been particularly helpful for students in the program, she said.
“Each session has touched on an element of care that we’ve been doing, so gaining the knowledge and education and then automatically being able to put it into practice, that’s been valuable.
“My message to first, second and third-year students would certainly be to look at aged care.
It’s a lot of critical thinking and a lot of putting all your practices and all your education together to actually work out the best and optimal care for complex patients, complex residents.”
Cooinda Aged Care Service Manager Gillian Hyett credits the program’s success to the collaborative partnership between Lutheran Services and UniSC.
“We’ve never embarked on something like this before. It provides students with an opportunity to be able to move straight into aged care with confidence and the support of us behind them,” she said.
Success of the program was also demonstrated in that some of the pilot students were now employed as registered nurses at Lutheran Services, which operates 11 aged care sites across Queensland.
“The exciting thing for me is that they have a passion for aged care. This is the career path that they’re wanting, that they’re choosing and that’s exciting for us – for Cooinda and for Lutheran Services.
“One of the biggest issues we face in our industry is a critical staff shortage and this program is supporting us to face that head on. This program is actually supporting us to build our workforce.”
Students in the program gained a really good understanding of the specialised role of the registered nurse in aged care, Ms Hyett said.
“It’s all about our residents. It’s about meeting their needs and working with them and so it’s just so important to have that heart and desire to meet the needs of older people.
“I think it’s absolutely a first [the program] and I hope that it expands and grows in the future.”