Myths about working in aged care

What do you think of when someone says they work in aged care? Pokey dark rooms with no light, sloppy food, out of date décor and neglected gardens?

Sub-par care from people with no compassion, in the job too long? Matronly looking managers stuck in their ways, yelling at staff?


When we think of aged care it’s easy to conjure up a mental picture of old people slumped in chairs, institutional-looking buildings with no atmosphere, staff who could perhaps be mistaken for patients (or waiting for a bed of their own), mushy food and sub-standard care delivered by grumpy people; all overlaid with a faint - and sometimes overwhelming whiffy smell that seems to seep into everything…..

But that’s NOT the case these days! Oh no.

It is no longer the ‘end of the road’ for your career. You’re not ‘past it’ with no other options. It’s not the last stop before retirement, or where you go if you’re washed up! Quite the reverse! This sector is making huge strides in care delivery, including rapid advancements in dementia care, food services and innovations in quality and service; the provision of total wrap-around lifestyle options for elderly residents who are no longer seen as ‘patients’ or ‘residents’ but customers, with tailored care, and tailored accommodation options.


Workforce - There is a massive workforce out there who are young and hip, perhaps older but still hip, and some might even be in need of a new one, but these people are highly qualified, driven, compassionate and dedicated, with energy, career ambitions and a determination to be outstanding in their areas of expertise.

They are in their roles as Caregivers, Nurses, Clinical Team Leaders, Clinical Managers, Care Home / Care Centre Managers, Village Managers, Nurse Practitioners, Regional Operations Managers, Clinical & Quality Managers, Policy and Training Development- because they LOVE working in the sector. They have seen incredible changes over the last 20 years, and are proud of the highly compliant, quality-driven clinical care being delivered to older people.


Compliance - The sector is now highly compliance-driven. People often get quite a shock when they realise just how much of an emphasis is on quality clinical services, and whilst most rest home/hospitals attain 3 years, the top echelon acquires 4 years’ certification; (only about 20% achieve this). This is no mean feat when you consider that they are subjected to regular audits at 1, 2 or 3 yearly intervals, surveillance audits, and unannounced spot audits to make sure everything is ship-shape! These audits cover everything from clinical care, incident reporting, falls and complaints, to food quality, kitchen standards, resident satisfaction, financial management, staff attraction and retention, staff education and so much more! Constant internal and external audits and compliance mean there is an ongoing focus on continuous improvement and the provision of excellent care. It is often that passion for ensuring clinical excellence that leads practitioners into the Auditor or Quality, Policy development or Training pathways.


Competition - The retirement sector is booming, with new developments springing up all over the country. Whilst these are state of the art hotel-like residences for those who can afford it, there are still smaller organisations and even some family-owned standalone sites, who strive to compete with the ensuite, purpose-built sparkly new complexes. When one of these pops up down the road, it is an even greater incentive to ensure quality care is the deciding factor when prospective residents and families are making their decisions….


A spectrum of Care - We see the upsurge in large retirement developments, offering care across the spectrum; from totally independent living for those still wanting to get out there for their weekly round of golf or shopping to supported living in villas and apartments, to hospital and acute care either in a care centre environment or even in their own purpose-built apartments, that come with all the bells and whistles (literally). Help is just down the hall at any time of the day or night.

And with the government mandate of keeping people in their homes for longer, this means that by the time new residents arrive, they are at a much higher acuity than they used to be, often at hospital-level care, if not palliative. This puts an increasing demand on clinical services for care to accommodate those requirements; a far cry from the cosy rest home of 20 years ago, with active and mobile residents whose worst affliction was a little forgetfulness. The level of care now frequently required is much more acute and clinically challenging.


Dementia - With the surge in dementia and associated illnesses, challenging behaviour, and resident needs for stimulation, activities, protection and safe environments as well as clinical care, we now have dedicated Memory Care Units, able to deliver care into peoples’ individual rooms instead of dreary, uninviting dementia facilities reminiscent of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. More and more organisations are setting up specialised dementia care options which allow residents to be part of a community, accessing the ‘corner shop’, the hairdresser, the ’bus stop’ and other familiar spots, all whilst remaining safe and in a stimulating environment.  Rest homes have developed sensory rooms, providing dementia residents with a tactile environment, where they can go to either calm down and listen to soothing sounds and music, or provide stimulation, using music, lights, and activities- the range is vast, just like the various needs of individuals navigating their journey through dementia.


Use of Technology - This is an area which is growing rapidly in aged care, like any other sector. Residents in retirement villages now have high-touch, high tech options, with everything from movie selection to menus and activities at their fingertips, integrated alarm systems and monitoring for safety and clinical assessment. Integrated care plan models using the InterRai assessment tool, online documentation, the capacity to be seen by a nurse via an I-pad rather than face to face when circumstances do not allow, and electronic monitoring for patients who may be a falls risk- just a few of the many innovations making care provision easier / more efficient / faster and more compliant- all for a better patient outcome.


Food - Huge inroads are being made into catering for this part of the population, with constant improvements, quality initiatives and cutting edge developments in care that enhance the quality of life of residents. With sought after awards for culinary excellence and innovation, the competition is fierce. Far from the slushy plates of indistinguishable mush you might imagine, these days there are all sorts of advancements, personalising food for the individual (personal preferences, and clinical and dietary needs to maintain weight, through to designer soft foods moulded in the shape of meat and vegetables), and hotel standard service is becoming the benchmark in quality food service delivery.  You will frequently find that there are industry chefs creating the food on-site, not just for the families and friends as they visit the cafe, but also the hospital level residents too. 

Care - Care is provided by fully qualified caregiving staff who often go above and beyond to make sure their residents are treated like one of their own family.  Qualifications are now mandatory and ongoing training is a given, meaning the level of care is constantly improving, the workforce increasingly skilled and valued. And it’s a well-known fact that ‘big and shiny’ doesn’t necessarily equate to awesome care. Some of the smaller sites provide out of this world care that you couldn’t provide your dear old granny with yourself!


The role of nursing staff - Nurses in aged care automatically have a team of caregiving staff to manage. This brings its own challenges but also provides an excellent training ground for leadership training and people management. They are not simply taking temperatures, monitoring vitals, and having a bedside chat, but have a comprehensive workload- everything from wound care to doctor’s rounds, family meetings, staff management, often being included in the hiring decisions, as well as performance appraisals, managing staff conflict or underperforming staff, setting up performance improvement plans, performance management processes – (with support from the manager), overseeing clinical care, updating care plans and providing reviews of care, handling new admissions, providing support to grieving families, dealing with incidents and accidents, quality improvement initiatives, rostering of staff, managing the clinical budget and staying on top of internal audit requirements. The expectation of team leadership in aged care, on top of a clinical load, provides an amazing opportunity to extend and develop leadership skills- and often results in natural progression into more senior roles.


Leadership pathways-The leadership pathway in aged care can provide a whole raft of development opportunities, with many of the larger organisations providing training and development courses aimed at retaining their staff and ‘growing their own’ managers- providing management pathways and mentoring, aimed at cultivating an atmosphere where professional and personal development is encouraged and supported.

Not restricted to clinical roles, these management pathways and organisational frameworks enable people to grow and develop their skills in people management, HR processes, financial knowledge and budget management, knowledge of sales and marketing, auditing and quality, and seeing service provision from a business planning and operational standpoint.


Executive Management - With aged care such a booming industry these days, there are options for those with sales, marketing, financial, project management, regional management and operational experience to find their niche.


Clinical progression - And if the management pathway doesn’t really float your boat, there are senior options with more of a Clinical focus -such as Regional Clinical Quality or Auditing, Policy Development or Training roles, whilst other organisations offer Nurse Practitioner positions- all in a bid to constantly enhance clinical care and quality.


Transfers - With so many organisations now in the corporate space with a large national presence, this enables inter-regional transfers for promotion or family/lifestyle options for staff. The ever- increasing acknowledgement of work/lifestyle balance as a major factor in choosing employers, makes this a real plus for people considering their next move. In many ways, the aged care sector is leading the way- providing career pathways, utilising much more than clinical skill alone, to develop a workforce which has strong clinical leadership with hands-on experience, alongside the ability to manage a budget, deal with the many service contracts, fix the leak in the kitchen, project manage the renovation of a new wing, ensure ongoing quality improvements are put in place; making sure that staff are well trained, constantly upskilled, encouraged and appreciated; that the allied agencies and many stakeholders are engaged, supported and involved, and that the industry is represented at both a local and national level.


As we see the ever-increasing demand for services, aged care is a sector that will continue to push boundaries and assert its voice to ensure they are heard, that standards are constantly raised, care is constantly improved and that those without a voice have someone to stand for them. Certainly not a dusty back room where careers go to die!



(Image credit: Jeshoots, Unsplash)