With a growing older population, we need more nurses who have the confidence and capability to work in aged residential care.

 Life expectancy now exceeds that of any previous period in history. Many people will live their later years with one or more disabilities in physical and mental health. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aged residential care population and their nursing staff has reinforced the importance of having a well-prepared aged care workforce. Yet gerontology, the care of older people, has a long history of struggling to recruit and retain nursing staff. 

Kerry Davis and Rachel Parmee, Senior Lecturers in our School of Nursing, have been researching how to prepare student nurses to work with the senior population. As well as looking at international examples, Kerry and Rachel consulted with gerontological experts locally - the Southern District Health Board nurse practitioner in older person's health, managers from the aged residential care sector, and allied health colleagues from speech language therapy, occupational therapy and dietetics. Lecturers and clinicians with specialist knowledge kindly shared their perspectives on the core knowledge that a well-prepared gerontology nurse needs. The research affirmed the high level of skills, knowledge and critical thinking required of nurses in what are often complex care situations.

The results of the research have been implemented with a new clinical course in senior persons' health, starting in 2020. The new course incorporates:

  • Guest lecturers who are specialty experts and can assist students to make linkages between clinical practice and theoretical concepts.
  • Small group simulation with students assessing an older patient presenting at a rural general practice with acute delirium and other complexities.
  • A professionalism scenario, which grew in complexity, for students to identify and apply relevant professional boundaries and ethical codes.
  • A media review, to identify and deconstruct negative stereotypes of older people.
  • Meeting and interviewing a 91-year-old woman who lives independently.
  • Meeting and interviewing a younger senior and applying relevant assessment tools.
  • Emphasis on person-centred care, empathy and self-determination of the older person wherever possible.

Student feedback indicates that the course was relevant and prepared them effectively for their clinical placement in the aged residential care sector. Some students have chosen to continue as paid caregivers after clinical placement was completed, while others have chosen to explore voluntary work within the sector, indicating that the new course is likely to both equip and encourage new nurses to work in the aged residential care sector. While yet to be formally evaluated, anecdotal feedback from managers in the sector indicates that the course has made a difference.

 October 2020