Working in aged care wasn’t at the top of my ‘places I’d like to work’ list after graduating. Admittedly, it anchored that list, squashed by jobs I deemed more desirable. My peers held the same view with most moving into private practice or the hospital system after university.
Assumptions held me back from entering the aged care arena. I perceived that the work would be boring and mundane and development opportunities limited. Also, I questioned, ‘Would I be making a difference?’
When a client returned to their sport or a patient was safely discharged from the hospital, I could see the impact I was making. But do equivalent signs of progress exist in aged care? After a few years working in the private practice setting, I moved into aged care to answer this question myself.
Quickly it became clear that many of my presumptions about the field were unfounded. On my first day on the job, I was surprised at the similarities an aged care centre shared with a hospital. The rooms had the same features, nurse’s stations could be found on each corner and meal carts were expertly manoeuvred throughout.
There were other similarities too:
- Residents faced many of the same issues that hospital patients dealt with like weakened immune systems and an inability to move about as freely as they’d like.
- I worked as part of a multidisciplinary team of therapy assistants, nurses and aids, much like a hospital.
Soon, I was building a hospital-like skill set at a time when hospital jobs were scarce. I learned about mobility assessments: how to carry them out on an elderly person and the importance of the assessment in guiding staff.
Violet, the experienced physiotherapist I worked along side conducted the manual handling training of new staff. ‘My presentation skills have improved immensely. Nearly every week I’m delivering manual handling training and it has allowed me to hone my ability to speak in front of an audience,’ she said. My communication improved too as I liaised with staff, talked with the elderly and discussed their health with family. I became more assertive but also empathetic and tactful. It’s a challenging role – balancing the demands of management, the resident and the concerns of loved ones. The experience was arming me with the tools and a mentality to succeed in a hospital role.
Opportunities in aged care shouldn’t be underestimated as a pathway to grow as a physiotherapist. Australia’s population is ageing and residential care will continue to grow and take more responsibility from the overburdened hospital system.
Demand for physiotherapists will increase and, as the industry matures, there will be developments in the way aged healthcare is approached. You and I will be at the forefront of these changes as research and funding increases. ‘There will be a movement away from the current life maintenance model to a system that promotes improving quality of life,’ said Violet. The focus will be developing residents’ strength and conditioning, instead of pain management alone.