Opinion: Nursing, it's about more than money
The federal government’s long-awaited pay rises for aged care workers, including registered nurses, are both welcome and overdue. And while they should have an impact on attracting much needed nursing staff to the growing aged care sector, where new regulations mandate the need for at least one registered nurse on duty from 1 July, a nursing career in aged care offers benefits that go well beyond wages.
And I speak from experience.
Having started my own career in aged care as a personal care assistant before qualifying as a registered nurse, I can personally attest to the diversity, the responsibility and the genuine joy that comes from caring for people during such an important, but often misrepresented, stage of their lives.
Over more than 30 years in the sector, I have had the privilege of witnessing first-hand the incredible impact compassionate nursing has on residents in care… and their families. Of course, hospitals also provide vital care for those in need, but there’s a lot to be said for the longevity of the nurse–patient relationship care in an aged care setting where nurses have the luxury of time to forge strong bonds with their patients, and their families, and to witness the positive impact of their care over time, as opposed to the more fleeting interactions between nurses and patients in an acute hospital healthcare setting.
Another major but less recognised benefit of nursing in aged care is the diversity of daily responsibilities (no two days are ever the same), and the leadership opportunities on offer.
In a typical hospital setting, registered nurses’ work tends to be quite task-focused, and is often specialised in a particular area, with a small patient cohort, such as the cardiac ward, paediatrics or oncology. In the aged care field, registered nurses build expertise across many comorbidities, since the elderly often suffer numerous concurrent ailments, whilst overseeing all aspects of patient care, only escalating to GPs when further intervention is required. At our facilities, registered nurses work side by side with senior nursing staff, medical specialists, lifestyle and leisure coordinators, and residents’ families to reach the best possible physical, emotional and social outcomes of their patients.
As for career progression and leadership, which also leads to further financial reward, nurses in the aged care setting often have access to leadership and training opportunities earlier in their careers than their hospital-based counterparts — and my personal history is a prime example.
Registered nurses in aged care are team leaders, accountable for overall service and care delivery, team development, and mentoring and coaching new nurses, and with Australia’s aging population, there’s no doubt the industry’s growth will continue to accelerate, and so will the opportunities. High-performing registered nurses have the opportunity to progress into roles such as care manager, infection prevention coordinator, educator, quality and compliance, director of care services or director of nursing.
In my case, I’ve been fortunate to work around my family and enjoy exciting career progression as I’ve moved from personal care assistant to registered nurse, then clinical compliance, then operations manager, before becoming CEO.
Nursing is all about relationships and trust. So is aged care. And without question, staff is the greatest asset, and whilst rewarding, the aged care workforce financially is critical, so is fulfilling them professionally and personally by working together to create a brighter future for elderly residents by setting a new standard for outstanding aged care.
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