It’s a long time since I worked as a care assistant in a home for older women with dementia, and back then older people’s nursing (or geriatric nursing as it was known) was called the Cinderella service. It was seen as a backwater where nurses went if they had either no talent or no aspirations.
An episode of The Undercover Boss on Channel 4 recently featured the MD of a care home group going into her homes to see first-hand the challenges her staff faced. One manager spoke of the difficulties in recruiting qualified nurses - the stress of trying to cope without the continuity offered by nurses on staff was written all over her face. Despite her obvious dedication to her job and love for her residents she resigned while the programme was being filmed.
I don’t think anyone who understands the challenges of nursing older people would say it’s a specialty for people with no talent or aspirations, but it does still seem to be something of a backwater. I’ll admit to a personal interest here - my Mum is frail and confused and living in a nursing home, albeit one in which the care is excellent. However, it saddens me some elements of the Cinderella image prevail.
Nursing older people requires a range of clinical skills to manage comorbidities for which treatments often conflict. It also requires excellent communication skills to compensate for sensory or cognitive deterioration. But it is also a hugely rewarding specialty. Older people have so much life experience to share, and if you take the time to get to see beyond their health problems many are great company - and the long-term contact of nursing homes offers real opportunities to develop meaningful nurse-patient relationships.
Older people deserve the best - maybe it’s time for Cinderella to go to the ball and gain recognition as a career destination for the best and most ambitious patient-focused nurses.