Caring for older adults
The projected increase in the number of New Zealanders aged over 65 will further amplify the need for health services for older adults in hospitals, communities and aged residential care facilities. There is a growing need for more nurses working in this sector, so what are the factors that interest and deter student nurses from working with older adults?
This issue is being explored by a Te Pūkenga research team, led by Associate Professor Samantha Heath at Unitec, and including Victoria Munro at Otago Polytechnic, Fiona Soper and Michelle Eleno at Southern Institute of Technology and Janice Groube at Ara Institute of Technology. The study has been funded by MBIE and began with a stocktake about how aged care is included in the nursing curriculum. In 2022, 750 student nurses in 12 polytechnic nursing schools participated in an online survey about their perceptions of working with older adults. Quantitative data provided answers to 17 questions on a 5-point Likert scale. General thematic analysis was used to examine the qualitative data provided by the students in 5 open-ended questions.
The results show that student nurses have a positive disposition to working with older adults. They appreciated that the clinical situation was affected by staff shortages, workload, and funding models. They saw the specialty as rewarding with the opportunity to develop useful skills. Less obvious was a career framework and opportunities for advancement. Ageism was evident in free-text responses.
There is an opportunity to examine how career structure and opportunity in aged care are communicated to new nurses. It is also necessary to consider how ageism might be addressed, otherwise ageist attitudes among the future healthcare workforce will adversely influence clinical and policy development for generations to come. These results will contribute to a review of how aged care is incorporated into polytechnic nursing programmes, to support students to meet the healthcare needs of older adults as expected demographic changes in New Zealand’s population unfold.