Jan 14, 2019

Student Placement: How the Culture Within your Facility can Shape a Career

The skill-set that a person acquires before they start working is the foundations of their future career. While nothing will surpass the insight and learning gathered through years of industry work, it’s the lessons that you learn at the beginning that set the tone for what you can become.

Entering an aged care facility on student placement can be daunting. The sights, sounds, and smells of a real-life facility will add a new dimension to the role that you can’t prepare for via textbooks. The people are real, and so is the responsibility.

An aged care employee may be asked to play a variety of roles throughout any given day and these roles are made up of a multitude of different tasks, each of which is important.

Things that may appear minor or insignificant to the average person can have an effect on the wellbeing of an elderly resident, and that’s why you’re training must be of a high standard before you can enter a facility as a working student.

And in the instance that an emergency arises, you will not have the ability to turn around and ask a trainer if you can start again. This is where people run on instinct and it’s imperative that the instincts that you have learned are correct.


Starting The Journey

For a student, arriving at an aged care facility for work placement is a chance to put their newly acquired skills into practice, it’s also a time to start gathering information from more seasoned employees on how things need to be done.

This type of insight can be the best way for a student to become a knowledgeable employee, but according to the Institute of Tertiary & Higher Education Australia’s (ITHEA) Aged Care Coordinator, Dee Condy, this is only possible if the employee that the student is learning from is actually good at their job.

“Students are like sponges, so we train them the right way. And in some cases they can go to facilities where employees try and teach them the quickest way to do things instead,” she said.

“Each facility has a culture of their own, and that culture is dictated by the quality of staff they have working, these people shape the habits of the students that join the facility on work placement. If that culture is toxic, that will affect the working habits of every new person that enters that place.”

Like most team environments, an aged care facility is a team environment. That team can be made up of a mix of different types of workers ranging from Registered Nurses and Enrolled Nurses through to carers and volunteers. And while these people can work closely with each other, that doesn’t stop issues between staff from arising.

Established staff can feel threatened or jealous of new employees to a facility, and this can result in an unwillingness to share information and hinder the development of a student looking to grow and learn the trade.

Established staff can also have their own way of doing things that differ from the recommended procedure, and encourage students on placement not to ‘rock the boat,’ and forgo their training procedures, for modified and often incorrect methods.

“Lazy application breeds complacency in a workplace,” said Mrs. Condy.

“When this becomes the norm within a facility you end up with a toxic environment for both the new staff and the residents. The horror stories of neglect within facilities aren’t usually the result of a collection of evil people, they are born from an environment that doesn’t care anymore. And that starts with the small things.”

“I’ve worked for well over 30 years across a number of facilities and I’ve seen beautiful things and I’ve seen ugly things happen. When I train our students at ITHEA, I give them the skills and mindset to make the beautiful things happen, but established staff at facilities play a big part in helping these students take the next step in the right way.”

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Established Staff

Bad facility working environments are the result of established staff either not having the required skills needed, or having the skills, but not possessing the right type of character to see the importance that correct procedure has on the well being of residents.

“We have upskilled a number of seasoned staff members who either forgot their previous training or failed to adapt when more efficient procedures were identified. Some of these people were simply stuck in their ways,” said Mrs. Condy.

 This doesn’t make them bad people or even bad staff necessarily, but times change, just like the needs of residents, and they have to adapt. If a staff member has the right character for the job, they should be willing to do what’s necessary for the residents. These people are the ones that set the tone of the culture at a facility.

When asked about her thoughts regarding staff who didn’t appear to have the right type of character for the job, Dee Condy did not mince her words.

“You get rid of them. You need to be able to empathise with a resident and put yourself in their shoes. If a staff member has displayed that isn’t a priority, they shouldn’t be anywhere near a vulnerable person who needs care. Because of one of these rotten apples can spoil the bunch.”

For more information on ITHEA training go to www.ithea.edu.au

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  1. As an experienced support worker with experience in disability group homes as well as in-home community and Mental Health support in my personal experience I have found the working environment in aged care facilities to be toxic.

    My experience has been that the chronic understaffing requires workers to mentally dehumanise the people they work with in order to meet their duties, treating them as objects to be operated upon as ‘efficiently’ as possible with no leeway for meaningful Human interaction and who are often stripped of their dignity with regards to personal hygiene due to time constraints imposed on the minimal support staff. This has been exacerbated by the attitude of most RNs who seem to regard themselves as managerial staff who are above performing the actual physical work involved despite the chronic understaffing.

    I was able to see first hand the reason for the high rates of burnout and turnover, which makes me thankful I had the option to not work in this industry. My cynical sweeping response to the statement that “it takes special people to work in aged care” would now be “yes, those who don’t care, and those who don’t have a choice” and it’s the latter I feel for as I witnessed their air of chronically stressed exhaustion which the former seemed to avoid.


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