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'Bridging the age gap could help to solve the staffing crisis'


What can nursing do to attract students and nurses to older people’s care, asks Liz Charalambous

I was discussing nursing with a colleague last week and we shared stories of why we chose it as a career. I was surprised to learn that we had both been Brownies and Girl Guides and so were introduced to caring activities at an early age. For example, we visited care homes at Christmas to sing for older people and, for our childcare badges, we looked after children and babies. 

Speaking to others I found that many of my colleagues had also been members of uniformed organisations when they were younger. It made me wonder whether the early introduction to caring planted the idea of nursing as a career option into young minds?  

I reflected on this when I attended a careers fair last week in an attempt to inspire students studying healthcare courses to come into nursing in general , and nursing of older people in particular. Not one of the people I spoke to showed any interest in caring for older people. I was rather surprised, as my career choice had been an obvious and natural one for me.

I explained to the students I spoke to that the majority of patients are now aged over 65. We are becoming an ageing population so older people are found in many settings such as acute wards, intensive care and accident and emergency departments. However, the areas that appealed most to the students were midwifery, critical care and paramedic services. 

So, what can we as a profession do to attract students and nurses to older people’s care? Traditionally this is the backwater of nursing, a Cinderella service, the place nurses used to be sent when they  failed their finals, got married or became pregnant. 

Friends of the Elderly, a charity that provides support to older people, has recently launched a Be a Friend campaign, which encourages people to reach out the hand of friendship to older people in their community. Today’s society, with fragmented families living miles apart, has became a lonely place for older people. Many spend days alone.

Society needs to address these issues. Political, economic and social forces play their part in contributing to problems in society and, indeed, future problems in nursing. I predict that older people will pay the heaviest price as future nurses turn away from care of the older person.

The rising numbers of patients, coupled with the predicted global shortfall of nurses, is bringing us to a tipping point. We need to act fast. 

We need to invest in the image of older people’s care and show what a rewarding and fascinating specialty it is. We need to invest in people, provide structured career paths within the specialty and support those already working here. We need to find ways to engage young minds and show that older members of society are valuable and worthy of our attention. But most of all, for now at least, we need to cherish and value the older members of our society and give them the loving care they so very much deserve.

Liz Charalambous is staff nurse, Health Care of the Older Person, Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham.

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Readers' comments (10)

  • Hello, I would suggest that like me you trained without needing to be able to qualify for university.
    There are many younger people caring for the elderly. They are excellent HCA's or struggling to do the onerous job of being an agency carer in the community.
    In my experience of having trained in the '80's and now working in a community hospital now, there is very little about nursing that is evaluated by gaining a degree.

    It is still a vocation, and so many aspiring people cannot attain to 3000 and 10,000 word essays.
    To have a good knowledge of the physiology, to have empathy, people skills, stamina, excellent observational skills. Think quickly in stressful situations. Manage unsocial hours on limited pay and be cheerful and encouraging, is not judged by a degree.

    I needed five GCSE equivalents and to be an SEN I would have needed two.
    I have not in my nursing career yet seen in this country any need to have changed that. It is an outsiders perception that to 'up value' nursing, a university education is necessary.

    However, in my experience of Spanish and Portugese Nurses, they have degree's of four years, and yet their practical skills and preparation for the real job of nursing, is second to none. Maybe look to see how it is done there.
    Please can we stop excluding the wealth of would be dedicated people who do not fit into the 'administrative' academic section of nursing candidates.

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  • Liz Charalambous

    I too trained in the 80s but studied for a degree and now doing a MSc.

    Nursing has changed and developed as a profession over the years. I think your points are valid, maybe we should look at ways to include the people who can't aspire to academic heights yet still have a love of the job and want to care.

    I wonder if we will go full circle and have a 2 tier system again as in the days of SRN/SEN?

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  • 'Friends of the Elderly, a charity that provides support to older people, has recently launched a Be a Friend campaign, which encourages people to reach out the hand of friendship to older people in their community.'

    a pretty desperate society when you have to spell out to its members what should come naturally to them. I suppose it is better than nothing but 'Be a Friend' has connotations of being very superficial, unspontaneous and more for the benefit of those perceived by themselves and others to be 'doing their duty'!

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  • Ana ..couldn't agree more.I trained in the late 70s...There are so many excellent HCAs who are far better at than many of the graduate nurses we see these days, but unfortunately they do not have the bits of paper to get them into a uni. Bring back secondments to training.

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  • There is no escaping the fact that the elderly are increasing in numbers and will require hospital care for a myriad of health problems in the future. With this in mind perhaps now is the time to introduce the 'excellence in care' branch of nursing for the elderly, to be applied for in the same way as midwifery, adult and child branch students apply. There has never been a shortage of applicants for places and I am sure there will be many who would willingly take this route. Pay and progression should be enhanced if necessary to ensure retention once qualified. And of course it would help if everyone stopped thinking of the elderly as a burden and realised that we will all get old one day, it is not a choice we make!

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  • As a trained nurse I too qualified in the 80s
    When I worked on the medical wards it was to me seen as a logical progression to go from there to community and onto working in a carehome.
    Elderly care medicine does not receive a good press.. and carehomes as a whole unfortunately get bad publicity ,the sector is not seen as sexy or cutting edge and so not given house room by younger people.
    Stereotypes in the media dont help..
    whereas I can see that some people may consider further education to degree standard is not necessary.. I disagree as a lot of care is given in nurse led units and we are there as autonomous practitioners..incidentally I work as a lead nurse in a car home

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  • meant care home and I like to think we treat our residents as we would like our parents to be cared for ...

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  • I too was a Brownie and Guide and visited hospitals to sing carols etc at Christmas. I also did so when I was in a Youth Club. I didn't need a degree either when I trained in the 60s. However, I now have several including a teaching qualification. What I did back in the 60s and 70s bears no relationship to Nursing today other than the core skills of caring and compassion. However we were supported on the wards in those days by excellent Enrolled Nurses who did a two year training. Those who showed potential went onto do a conversion course to become a Registered Nurse. Surely the very excellent Health Care Assistants who are level three can do extra training and receive a recognised qualification to become a second level nurse. Thus solving the shortage of Practical skilled nurses so sorely needed for care of the elderly.

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  • Health Promotion has a lot to answer for, as does technical advances. Enjoy life to the full whilst still young and forget health propaganda. You won't live long but won't have to endure the misery of being unwanted and uncared for.

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  • I too trained in the 70s but continued to learn and now have a PhD. The SRNs I remember we're highly skilled and not at all equivalent to today's HCAs- my SRN training was, I believe, equal to today's degrees. Many people failed their state finals so please can we stop this idea that it used to be a job for 'practical' people without the desire or ability to study

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