Want to really make a difference as an RN? Consider aged care

Nurse talking with an elderly lady

Aged care nursing isn’t considered glamorous. It isn’t considered fast-paced or stimulating like being an Emergency, theatre nurse or a midwife. There’s absolutely no doubt that aged care nursing has a bit of a branding problem. It is attached to a certain kind of stigma, but according to those working in the field, this negative reputation is really not warranted.

Aged care nurses say young grads and anyone looking for a challenge should carefully consider aged care nursing alongside all the options in an RN nursing career path.

With people living longer, and with many more aged care nursing options available (in residential aged care facilities, hospitals, community clinics or through providing ‘at-home-care’ services for people in their own homes), it offers an interesting career choice that requires a wide range of nursing skills.

Rewarding and making a real difference

Many of the nurses currently working in aged care say they feel they are able to contribute more holistically to their patients’ care and they are able to work very closely alongside GPs and other health practitioners. Not only does this provide a stronger sense of having control over patient outcomes, it helps them to develop many more skills across a full spectrum of nursing that isn’t always possible in other environments.

But mostly, nurses who venture into the aged care sector say what they value most is the relationships – the lasting and meaningful bonds they are able to forge with some beautiful, fascinating older souls, many of who have lots of good stories to tell and wisdom to impart.  Many nurses will tell you that being able to bring dignity, humour and a high-level of care to these people in their latter years is one of the greatest rewards of working in the aged care sector.

What’s it like to work in aged care?

Aged care is one area of nursing that will keep growing as Australia faces a larger and larger aging population over the next 20 to 30 years. The Federal Government’s Australian Health and Welfare department reports that Australia’s older generation (those aged 65 and over) is projected to more than double by 2057.  This means that skilled and experienced aged care nurses will continue to be in demand (currently there is a real shortage of skilled people taking up jobs), so this sector can be a good nursing career option.

Wages can be lower than what you might expect to be paid in other RN roles, for example in a hospital environment, but for many nurses, the diversity of the job makes a difference in their satisfaction levels. They can really spend time getting to know patients over a period of time, and they’re often more involved in the ‘social’ and ‘fun’ aspects of care – celebrating birthdays, encouraging singing, dancing, a walk in the garden and interaction with others. Working with the elderly can be a more flexible (less ‘routine-oriented’) environment than working on a hospital ward too.

Variety and opportunity

Aged care nurses cover a variety of duties during each shift.  Registered nurses may give medication to patients (or residents as they’re called in nursing homes), they also observe each patient they’re in charge of, change dressings, check their patient’s vitals as well as make sure everything is okay with each individual patient and communicating with the patient’s doctor.

Like other nurses, aged care nurses must document everything they do in a shift. However, aside from the clinical aspects of nursing, aged care nurses are usually involved in other areas too including administration, admissions and family liaison, and team management.

Other areas of knowledge

Elderly patients typically have multifaceted and sometimes complex health issues. If you’re considering working in the field of aged care, you’ll need to have a broad range of knowledge such as: mental health nursing, neurology, wound management, drug and alcohol rehabilitation nursing, orthopaedics, respiratory, cardiac care, urology, gastroenterology, pharmacology, palliative care, strokes, rheumatology, emergency medicine, gynaecology, diabetes management, stoma management, pain 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: Occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech pathology, nutrition, social work and counselling.

Life long career path

Assistants in Nursing (AIN), enrolled nurses (ENs) an registered nurses (RNs) can pursue a career in aged care nursing. You might want to choose to focus your studies on aged care when you are first getting your nursing qualifications, or complete postgraduate study in gerontology later in your career.

If you have the desire, there are always options to pursue an area of specialty within aged care through further study too. Because each patient presents with such a diverse range of health issues, and every shift brings different challenges, being an aged care nurse can be a very satisfying nursing career option if you are empathetic to the needs of the elderly. An agency, like Best Practice Nursing Agency, can provide job opportunities in many nursing homes throughout Sydney.


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