The care of older people used to be considered slower paced and clinically less challenging but – like everything in nursing – our perceptions have had to change with the profession and patient demand.
A new survey published this week by care home provider Bupa and the Royal College of Nursing has found that 82% of older people’s nurses feel their career gives them the opportunity to work with complex health issues.
With older patients living longer but with more complex co-morbidities, nurses providing care will increasingly have to make clinical decisions.
“Isn’t that what nursing is all about?”
Often, if the nurse is working in a care home environment or as a district nurse, that complex clinical decision will have to be made autonomously. So, a job in older people’s nursing comes with a lot of responsibility – and as a result requires a lot of expertise and skill.
Inevitably, as people are living longer and have more conditions that require care, we will need more older people’s nurses, not fewer. And as the workforce shortage takes hold, this is an area where we may feel the pinch more than in many other sectors. That’s because I think we fail to talk up how important – and rewarding – older people’s care can be.
This is why I am keen to publicise this survey and its findings, to shine a light on this often forgotten and often undervalued part of the nursing world.
The Care to Care survey was completed by 873 RCN members working across nursing, managerial and support roles in the care sector, with more than half working in or for care homes. It highlighted that respondents felt they made a difference to an older person’s life. In fact, 90% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed they wanted to work in a care home for this reason.
Isn’t that what nursing is all about? Isn’t that why many people entered the nursing profession?
“This is about creating a foundation of trust between nurse and patient”
The nurses I speak to who are working in the community – in care homes, GP practices or as district nurses – have all said the same thing. That working in older people’s nursing enables you to connect with the patient, build a relationship, offer meaningful advice to help them get better and help them stay well.
It is remarkably rewarding. But this isn’t about a cosy fireside chat with a cup of tea – this is about creating a foundation of trust between nurse and patient, and that takes talent on the part of the nurse. Knowing what to say, how to say it, what advice will be most palatable and when to deliver it to really land the health messages is a real talent.
It’s about changing dressings, but finding out more than just the condition of the skin as you unravel the bandages. It’s about using that time to discover the mental health of your patients or the barriers preventing them from making healthy life decisions.
Some people still mistakenly downplay nursing and pretend it’s a job with little skill – a series of tasks that are considered fairly “basic”. It’s not.
We should remember that nursing an older patient might not make the headlines like a dramatic A&E life-save, but it is an important part of what defines nursing.
The kindness, compassion and skill that goes into caring for an older person is to be respected, and I think that respect has to come from the profession itself too.
Otherwise how we will ever encourage more nurses to want to join the ranks of the older people’s nurses?