Why You Should Support, Engage, And Protect Your Aged Care Nurses

I have said this so many times that you are most likely sick and tired of hearing it; but I don’t care, I’m going to say it again – the people who work in the Aged Care industry in Australia...

I have said this so many times that you are most likely sick and tired of hearing it; but I don’t care, I’m going to say it again – the people who work in the Aged Care industry in Australia absolutely astound me every single day with their dedication and passion.  There, I said it….again.

The reason I’m beating this (somewhat favourite), drum once more is because I was fortunate enough to see it first-hand again this week from a wonderful nurse who works at one of our partners aged care facilities.  While waiting for my client to arrive for our meeting, I noticed one of their nurses taking a few minutes of silence in one of the resident’s lounges.  It was quite, she sat with her hands on her knees in front of her, and had her eyes closed.  She seemed like she was meditating, or maybe sleeping I thought.  I glanced over every few seconds to see if she would move, and after rougly three minutes she did; she took a long, deep breath and opened her eyes.  It was just then that she caught my stare and I immediately felt a pang of guilt as I had maybe interrupted her break; and at the same time I noticed a red flush of embarrassment to her face.  Then I really felt guilty.

I decided to try and break the slightly awkward air as she came towards me, and smiled and asked if she were tired.  Her reply astounded me.  You see she wasn’t physically tired; she was emotionally drained.  She had been working at this home for the past two years and she loved it.  She loved the residents, their families and the staff at the home and she had gotten very close to a lot of them.  In the past week two resident’s she had been caring for over the past two years and sadly passed away; and it had hurt her.  She had been there when one passed away, and arrived for her shift three hours after the second had.  She had asked to be the one to liaise and speak with the families as she had developed a very close relationship with them while caring for their loved ones.  She had spent hours with the families during the mourning period, offering whatever comfort she could.  She had attended both funerals and felt as though she too had lost a dear friend or family member as well.

And then came this particular morning.  Having spent those past seven days grieving and consoling, she had just received news that her closest friend, a friend outside of work always offered her a sanctuary away from the clinical environment; had been diagnosed with cancer.  It had devastated her.  As I listened to her story over a coffee (the least I could do I think you’ll agree), I was absolutely bowled over at her resilience and capacity to manage the rollercoaster of emotions she had been through that week.  And how did she deal with it?  By sitting aside for three minutes during a break in silence, by taking a brief moment to try and make sense of it all before taking a deep breath, smiling, and then to attend to her patients as a dedicated nursing professional.  I can tell you now that, myself excluded (thanks to my almost ridiculous level of inquisitiveness), no one else at that facility saw any sign of the pain she had experience for one second on her face as she laughed with, sat with, cared for, and energised her patients that day.

When I walked away from the facility after that meeting, I thought of her again and how lucky we all are to have clinical practitioners like her in the world; and how important it is to protect them.  In my business our team often help nursing staff move roles and progress their careers; but I feel that in the aged care industry (as it continues to grow at a rapid pace); we are in very real danger of losing nurses and clinicians as wonderful as this lady due to burn out and emotional exhaustion if small but significant steps aren’t taken.

Invest in your superstar nurses

And this was certainly one hell of a superstar nurse!  But I wonder if there are enough facilities engaging with those top clinicians in their employ; asking where their aspirations lie, where they wanted their careers to go; and then putting plans in place to help them achieve their goals?  In any business you learn that investing in those staff members who add real value to your business is the single most important investment you can ever make.  It certainly is a far more effective strategy than having to replace that superstar with someone who does not add the same level of value.  I once read somewhere a conversation between a CEO and a CFO where the CEO suggested that they needed to invest in their staff members to upskill and empower them.  The CFO’s reply was ‘what if we invest in them and they leave us?’; to which his CEO replied ‘What if we don’t and they stay?’  I think that this example really highlights that importance.  Investing in your aged care staff can only improve, not just the quality of the staff, but also the quality of the care provided to residents, and will help those staff member’s engagement levels with the facility itself.

Know the battles they are fighting

One thing I am very sure of is that the example I spoke about at the start of this post is certainly not an isolated one.  By the very nature of their jobs, our clinical practitioners in the aged care sector (and most other clinical sectors I might add), are exposed to a huge level of emotion and trauma in their day-to-day working life.  Now you may recognise this, and you may even accept that it is part of everyday working life at your facility; but have you actually engaged with your clinicians about this?  Have you taken the time to sit with those staff members who have lost a resident to see how it was effecting them?  Have you, as I did, take them aside for a coffee and explore if there was anything you could do to help?  Very often a coffee and someone to listen is all that is required; but this is also an opportunity for you to feel the pulse of your staff and see what toll, if any, their job is taking on them.  You cannot help them if you are not aware of the battles they are fighting.

No one can do what a nurse does

This may seem a strange thing to say, but I mean it.  To clarify what I am speaking about here is that I believe that a career in nursing is one of those few careers that is a vocational one.  For those amazing people who dedicate their lives to the clinical care of patients in a nursing capacity are those who feel, for the most part, called to it.  Have you ever met a nurse who went in to it for the money?  Have you ever met a nurse who went in to that career for the glamour?  Of course not.  Nurses are notoriously underpaid for the work they do and the value to add to our lives, and I challenge you to find the glamour in emptying a bed pan at 3am at night.  Our nurses are called to their profession because the want to help people, they wish to provide a better quality of life to those in pain or who are ill; and ultimately they all want to make a difference.  This is probably the reason that I find it that little bit more upsetting when I see a nurse go through pain of their own, whether physical or emotional.  Everyone who has ever been a patient knows that it is the nurse who you look to for comfort and reassurance; and so if we cannot be there for them in their time of need for reassurance we have created a very sad working environment indeed.

So the next time you catch yourself unable to remember the last time you took a moment to check on the wellbeing of your staff members; remember all they do and ask yourself – Could I do that?  I’m pretty sure the answer will be no.

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