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‘In a care home, you are a guest in the patient's home’

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“You won’t enjoy care home nursing.”

“You’ll be sat around for most of the day.”

“You’ll lose all your skills.”

These were just some of the attitudes I’d faced when others had learned my next placement would be in a care home.

Personally, I was unsure what a care home placement would bring – truth be told, I’d never even set foot in a care home in my life.

Throughout my clinical life, I’d experienced a variety of areas; from wards to A&E to outpatients to theatres.

The opportunity to experience caring for residents in a care home had unfortunately evaded me until my most recent placement – my experiences here and the skills I’ve learned would be ones I’d never have anticipated, and I would be so much richer for the experience.

Gearing up for my first day, in typical ‘keen bean’ fashion, I’d made sure to pack what I felt were the nursing student essentials for clinical practice: scissors, tape, my penlight, and an outlandish number of pens among other things.

Armed with not only my ‘tools of the trade’ but also the questions, such as: “Who needs observations taken?” and “Where is the resus trolley?”.

My placement before this was an acute elderly ward – challenging at times, and very busy. It was there that I had got into the habit of being prepared in this way, such was the nature of the clinical work there.

I would soon learn that this type of preparation, while well-intentioned, would be somewhat ill-suited to caring for residents in a care home.

I quickly realised that the residents, as I got to know them, weren’t necessarily ‘clinically unwell’, and they weren’t here to be ‘cured’.

While a number of the residents did have bear some complex health needs, I soon learned a simple truth: this care home was indeed a ‘home’ , and I was simply a guest there.

I wasn’t there, armed with my tape and penlight, to probe and prod. I learned that I was there to help support their living in any way I could as a student nurse – no 7am observations, no ward rounds and no turbulent ward routine. 

As I got to grips with caring in this area, and had my perceptions changed, I learned the real value of working in a care home.

I’d swapped the 30-minute handovers with a friendly morning chat with the residents. I’d switched the clinical charts for photo albums. And I’d exchanged the infusions for arts and crafts.

I’d learned to slow down my practice and respect the nature of care home nursing. In turn, I feel I’ve left my 10-week placement with so many new skills.

My first care home experience has been tremendous as a student nurse.

While I may not have been taking intricate handovers, calculating complex drug dosages or liaising with many other health professionals, I’ve learned just as much as any other placement – the core skills of nursing: the value of communication, the essence of patience and the real worth of investing in not only someone’s care, but also their life.

My tips for a care home placement:

  • Do your research. Learn about the home before you arrive; the kind of care provision available and the residents’ needs are good places to start
  • Learn the daily routine – you are a guest in their home; they have their routine. They may have breakfast later or go to bed earlier than you may anticipate.
  • Get to know your residents. A 10-week placement flew by for me and I was still learning new things about the residents up until the end.
  • Respect the community. Some residents have lived in the home for decades and the staff in the home may be their family – playing an active part in their care, investing in their life and you won’t regret it.

Jon Feeney is a student nurse at Stirling University. @jonfeeney94

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