I have always wanted to be a nurse. I left school early, so going to university was not going to be easy. I was a single parent on income support, and was sent to an employment agency when my youngest started school. I had some ups and downs, but finally got a great case manager who asked me “what do you want to do?”
I told him aged care – I love being around older people. My Nana was the most important person in my life, and I missed her so much having moved interstate. I felt like maybe someone else’s Nana might need someone to talk to now and then. I was funded to undertake a traineeship in aged care – one of those notorious RTO’s set up by a company mostly interested in the government funding, and less interested in training quality staff for industry. Fortunately for me, a different opportunity came up – I had been working as a domestic cleaner and a company was offering different traineeships in community services. I was paid to study, and given 20 hours a week domestic cleaning work for seniors and veterans while I gained my qualification. Win-win.
My very first client was a lady who was dying at home, I would go in and clean, and also give her husband, her sole carer, a bit of break. She was bedbound, and mostly I sat beside her bed and we listened to the radio and ate biscuits from the tin she kept in her nightstand for the grandkids. She told me – “I am so afraid to die, but I can’t tell anyone else because I don’t want to worry them.” All I could do was hold her hand, so that is what I did. Just before Christmas, she gave me a small gift of chocolates, and told me she wouldn’t see me again, because she’d made her goal of a final Christmas with her family. Sure enough, she died on Boxing Day. She was an incredible lady.
When I finished my certificate 3, I was working 7 days a week around the clock. I was a casual now, so had to take all the shifts on offer. Some days I would leave home at 6 am and not go home again until midnight. I spent more time sitting in my car, driving between clients houses, or sitting at McDonalds using the free WiFi than I did with my family. I loved my job, but it was getting tiring.
I decided to go to TAFE and study aged care. I figured that there would be set shifts and there were always stories on the news saying aged care was desperate for workers. I’d be a shoe-in for a job surely, with 5 years experience.
I studied part time while my son was small, I’d go and breastfeed him at creche in between classes. When I graduated, I immediately began applying for jobs. I had great references and all the relevant skills. All my lecturers had praised my passion and understanding of the job, and my resume was professionally done. My work placement report was “one of the best” my course coordinator had read.
I got plenty of interviews. I nailed them all. I also got heaps of rejection letters, over 200 in the end. “No experience” or “not enough experience” were the main reasons. After two years, I gave up applying. I got a job with an agency, and even they wouldn’t let me go to aged care homes to begin with, as I didn’t have two Registered Nurses for references. I DID have glowing references from managers high up in community service organisations but that meant nothing.
I put my head down and worked hard, and eventually my boss at the agency was happy to be my reference for residential care. They started sending me to homes, and every place I went they told me “you’re fabulous, you can come back any time”. I started taking my resume with me to jobs, in hopes it might get me somewhere. It didn’t.
Finally, after a rush of sudden deaths in our family, I decided to just go for it while I still had time – I applied to do my diploma of nursing. I figured that I would get a job in aged care as a nurse – again, all we ever hear is that aged care need nurses. There are scholarships, government grants and recruitment drives all over the country. Easy peasy – right?
I did get a job as a carer in a facility when I went there for my nursing placement. I was told they saw I was “one of the good ones” from the moment I walked in. I loved it. It was where I had wanted to be for over ten years and finally I had made it.
I have left the aged care industry after just 11 months, burnt out and miserable. One bad facility was all that it took for me to run for the hills. Do I hate aged care? No way. Will I work there again? I hope so…but not before some major changes are made, which is where this campaign comes in!
I am now a qualified nurse working in the public hospital sector, and I love my job beyond words. Elderly patients – they are still my secret weakness. Aged care is still my passion, and I don’t think that will EVER change. I joke with my friends that some day I will build a nursing home and run it myself. It’s only sort of a joke.
Don’t believe everything the industry tells you – there are people just like me out there desperately trying to get in the door, but they don’t seem to want people who care about changing or bettering the system. They just want people who will do what the system says and nothing more. Passion is not a required skill for many corporations. And that is why we have all come together to work on this campaign.