Work experience in aged care could produce better nurses, new research has found.

New graduate nurses, who were previously employed in aged care facilities as undergraduate assistants, were surveyed by researchers at Western Sydney University.

It found the nurses believed aged care work improved their communication skills, and time management skills, and gave them a better understanding of the health system as a whole.

Ryman Malvina Major Village registered nurse Connie Vining said aged care was one of the best platforms for students to improve their skills.

“This work experience provides students with some of the most valuable foundations, which are relevant across all sectors of nursing.”

Vining said the largest hurdle to overcome was the stigma around aged care.

“It is often neglected as a potential career path, therefore new graduate roles are often viewed as an unfavourable area of work. This is what I want to change.”

She wished she had taken the opportunity to work in the aged care sector prior to graduating.

“Aged care is a great place for undergrads to form a key foundational nursing skill set. This experience greatly benefits undergraduates to improve their understanding of healthcare, and helps to put them on the career path, making them the best nurses they can be.”

Communication skills were the “basis to being a great nurse,” she said.

“I feel working alongside both residents, and their family and whānau, is one of the most valuable qualities you can learn as an aspiring registered nurse.”

In aged care you formed long-term relationships with patients, as well as vital skills for working with a vulnerable demographic, she said.

“These interpersonal relationships are not only of importance to the resident, and their family and whānau, but to the individual nurse’s self-awareness too.”

Aged care also provided nurses the chance to develop empathy.

“Working in aged care provides a great base for students to form real interpersonal relationships, to empathetically connect with their patients.”

Radius Rimu Park clinical nurse manager Kirsty Robertson said the aged care sector was complex.

“This complexity definitely helps give students more of a grounding in nursing and healthcare as a whole.”

Nurses in aged care worked more with families than those working in a hospital setting might experience.

“The communication skills you develop by working in partnership with patients and family are all vital to nursing, in any setting.”

Robertson agreed there was a stigma in aged care and urged students not to underestimate the value of basic care skills.

“It’s not until you look back that you see how important those basic care skills are to you as a nurse. These skills, like showering, are so much more than ‘just a task’. They teach you the foundations for nursing.”

She said the Australian study reinforced the importance of aged care.

“It is a fabulous learning environment. There’s a reason the local Polytech here start with a placement in the older adult sector.”

Vining said aged care experience provided students with a greater understanding of the health system overall.

“It gives aspiring nurses a greater understanding of the wider multidisciplinary teams roles, and how they work together to provide cohesive services.”

She said this also extended to the wider community, and the services available within the nurses’ regions.

Rimu Park facility manager Norman Hamilton said students became part of the team during placements.

“There’s a real culture of helping each other out. Our experienced caregivers act as great role models. Their skills rub off on the students.”

Hamilton said aged care required good time management skills due to the preparation required.

“If you’re showering someone, you can’t just do that straight away. It takes preparation.”

Vining agreed time management was another core nursing skill developed in aged care.

“The majority of areas in healthcare do run at quite a fast pace, and do have some stressful time constraints.”

Getting experience of this prior to graduating helped students to better manage their time, and prioritise the needs of patients, she said.

Vining said undergraduate work experience was often vital for students to decide if nursing was the career path they wanted to follow.

“Therefore support from aged care employers is of the utmost importance.”

Photos supplied by Radius Arran Court.

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