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Aged care nursing in the time of COVID-19: 'we are all family'

A nurse talks about the rewarding experiences of a
Photo: Aged care nursing in the time of COVID-19: 'we are all family'
As the realities of COVID-19 become the new norm in aged care facilities, Parul Dhiman says her career in nursing is as rewarding as it has ever been.

“Every day, every week, there is something that makes me think, ‘I have chosen the right job and this is where I should be’”, said Ms Dhiman, registered nurse and care coordinator at Anglicare Warrina Residential Care.

“And to be honest with you, a lot of my friends will still say to me: ‘Why do you work in aged care? Why don’t you go work in a hospital? They are well looked after.’”

“But aged care is something which gives satisfaction to me, particularly because you aren’t just caring for the residents, you are looking after their families too”, she told HealthTimes.

“And when you’re working there long enough, you come to think of them as your family. You become part of their life, and they become part of yours too.”
“Sometimes residents with dementia will think that you actually are their grandchildren, and they’ll show you so much love, and that really touches us as nurses. At Anglicare, we are all family.”

Ms Dhiman said that her desire to become a nurse started back in childhood.

“At the beginning, as a child, I actually wanted to be a doctor. Then I got really, really sick and I had to be in hospital for a month. I was surprised and it really touched me that the people who I saw caring for me the most were the nurses – I hardly ever got to see the doctor.”

“And I said to myself, the reason I want to become a doctor is to make a difference in other people’s lives. But the nurses are the ones who are in contact with me, they are asking how I’m doing, they are caring for me, while the doctor mainly just came to prescribe me medication and then went away.”

“It was the whole idea of caring and compassion, and looking after a person’s mental wellbeing as well as their physical wellbeing, and supporting the families. That is what really inspired me based on the experience that I had as a child.”

Ms Dhiman said the most rewarding part of working within aged care is feeling like she can make a difference every day.

“You are able to put a smile on someone's face. I could be having a rough day, but if someone will ask for my help, even to do a simple thing like getting them a glass of water, and that can put a smile on their face, it’s wonderful.”

“You get to make a difference in somebody’s life by just doing small acts of kindness.”

“We are looking after patients who are emotionally and physically very vulnerable. But if the families, at the end of the day, say to you that they’re so happy and glad that you’re there to look after their mum or dad, that’s such a rewarding part of working in aged care.”

She said she totally understood the anxiety and worry that families feel when their loved one comes to an aged care facility.

“That’s why we bring the families on board from the start. They are leaving their loved one in our care and they need to be reassured that they are being looked after.”

“Sometimes, it’s the families who require more reassurance than the residents”, Ms Dhiman explained.

“And I get it, I would be anxious too if I had to leave my mum or dad in aged care – there's no trust, there's no connection there yet.”

And of course, dealing with death is an inevitable part of working in aged care. 

“You are caring for a person who is at the last stage of their life. Palliative care is definitely one of the most difficult parts, but at the end of the day, what’s most important is that you're looking after them well, you bring in their families, you do what they want and seek their consent, respect their choices and wishes, and have those conversation with them.”

“Sometimes they're not able to open up, so you have to go to them and really have that open disclosure and say “what would you like us to do so that the person is comfortable and can pass away peacefully?”

Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has thrown up, Ms Dhiman says it now feels “like the new normal”.

“COVID has certainly caused a lot of anxiety across the board for residents and their families,  and there’s been depression, sadness and isolation.”

“But we’ve had to come together and think how we can deal with all this negativity and bring the positivity out of it.”

“So, we have had a lot of plans – we’ve had a big team involved from nursing care, and communication with families has obviously been very important.”

“Families were anxious for the residents, and the residents were worried about their families on the outside, so there was anxiety on both sides.

“It’s been about having the right support in place, having video calls, talking with families, having phone calls, telehealth conferences.”

“It was tough to begin with, but it’s the norm now”, Ms Dhiman said.

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Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte is a published journalist and editor, with 10 years of experience in developing high-quality content for national and international publications.

With an academic background in both science and communications, she specialises in medical and science writing. Charlotte is passionate about creating engaging, evidence-based content that equips the community with important information on issues around healthcare, medicine and research.

Over the years, she has partnered with organisations including the Medical Journal of Australia, Cancer Council NSW, Bupa, the Australasian Medical Publishing Company, Dementia Australia, MDA National, pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal government agencies, to produce high-impact news and clinical content  for different audiences.