Fifty years of service
Jill Dexter, a Canberra-based nurse and a mum-of-four, started her nursing career around five decades ago with a three-year hospital-based training program.
This program was essentially “on-the-job training. At the time, nurses learnt from their peers. In 1985, nursing education was transferred from hospitals to the higher education sector and the role of the nurse shifted from subordination to advancing autonomy of practice,” Jill said.
Her desire to make a positive difference in the lives of the elderly and improve their quality of life saw her move from acute care to aged care. Fifty years later, Jill is a manager at BaptistCare’s Carey Gardens aged care home in Canberra, managing a team of 60+ staff at the 65-bed facility.
“The demand for qualified registered nurses was growing and the need to upskill registered nurses in aged care was the incentive to attract me to pursue my career in aged care, where I could share my knowledge and skills with my colleagues,” she said.
Having worked in the sector for over 50 years, Jill is well aware of the challenges it brings. As a manager, her biggest challenge is staff retention and recruitment. “We cannot attract sufficient staff as they continue to be underpaid and undervalued. Another challenge is maintaining a high level of care for our residents. In the past two years, the COVID pandemic has heavily affected residents, staff and families. Our goal is to keep everyone safe from COVID. We need more carers to continue to deliver safe, quality care to our residents,” Jill said.
“Staff who are currently working or are planning to work in aged care know that this sector is in a crisis. It frustrates them that despite a recent Royal Commission into Aged Care, poor staffing levels and poor pay continue,” she said.
Given the myriad challenges facing the aged care industry, maintaining high morale can be particularly challenging. “… but working as a team, caring, and supporting each other has developed trust between us all,” according to Jill.
Nursing is about developing positive, trusting relationships with people, Jill said. “We reassure our residents and their families that they have skilled registered nurses in palliative care who will provide a high level of comfort care with the support of family members. An advanced care directive is completed for all residents, which outlines their preferences of care. We make sure that our residents are kept as comfortable as possible and have a dignified death. Nurses also support families and comfort them following the death of their loved one.”
The spread of COVID-19 has no doubt created additional pressures, but it hasn’t deterred Jill’s passion for service.
“We are constantly navigating the crisis to minimise the impact on the quality of care. Despite the daily challenges, I get great satisfaction that we provide our residents with quality care, compassion, empathy and support. My relationships with residents and their families are something I enjoy. I enjoy listening to residents’ stories and reminding them they are important and valued. I feel appreciated and feel proud and privileged to be caring for these vulnerable people nearing or at the end of their life,” Jill said.
Jill encourages people who are interested in a nursing career to volunteer or complete a certificate in aged care. “This will give them some experience caring for people in the community and those who are ill. This short experience will assist the young person to make their choice,” she said.
“Nursing is one of the most rewarding careers; however, it takes a special type of person to become a nurse. Nurses need special qualities such as compassion, empathy, patience and a passion for caring and helping others.”
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