Unique university placement helps tackle workforce crisis in aged care | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Unique university placement helps tackle workforce crisis in aged care

As Australia’s aged care sector struggles with critical workforce shortages, a novel final-year university placement is helping nursing students fast-track their transition into work-ready graduates – with expanded insights, skills and passion for caring for the elderly.  

One of the first in Australia, the University of the Sunshine Coast and aged care provider Lutheran Services say the final-year placement program they have co-designed has the potential to become a model for the sector.

A successful pilot at Cooinda Aged Care in Gympie has proved so effective that the program has been expanded to now  include three Lutheran Services aged care sites across South East Queensland.

Skills for complex care

UniSC aged care specialist Dr John Rosenberg says the ‘Transition to Practice’ program provides Bachelor of Nursing Science students with a genuine interest in careers in aged care with a final placement that incorporates hands-on-learning of clinical aspects vital to improving quality of life for elderly residents.

“Usually, aged-care placements occur in first year, where the emphasis is mostly on an introduction to general nursing, yet aged care residents have complex needs that require knowledgeable and skilful practitioners,” he said.

“In this final year placement, we’ve added extra layers of targeted learning – including a series of lectures led by UniSC academics and industry professionals.

“These cover topics such as dementia, falls prevention, wound management and end-of-life care – all critical issues for our students to become familiar with, to prepare them for careers as Registered Nurses in aged care.”

"Aged care residents have complex needs that require knowledgeable and skilful practitioners."

Future proofing aged care

CEO of Lutheran Services Nick Ryan said such innovative partnerships between universities and industry were the key to unlocking potential opportunity and helping to future-proof Australia’s aged care workforce.

“There is a national shortage of Registered Nurses in all sectors and our partnership with the University of the Sunshine Coast is one way of tackling this challenge,” Mr Ryan said.

“It’s also a great way of harnessing the passion of our up-and-coming nursing students and providing an easier pathway into such a rewarding area as aged care.”

UniSC Foundation Dean of Health Professor Tony Perkins said the program was a win all round.

“Residents receive company and care from students training to become healthcare professionals, students learn key aspects of care in an environment where many residents have multiple health issues, and the aged care providers have an engaged workforce to help deliver vital services.”

Gill Hyett, Service Manager at Lutheran Services Cooinda Aged Care, said the ultimate success of the placement was having some of the students involved in the pilot now employed as Registered Nurses at Lutheran Services, which operates 11 aged care sites across Queensland.

“Aged care is a specialist role, so it is exciting to be part of that journey with students who are proactive and passionate about working with our staff and residents.”

“One of the biggest issues we face in our industry is a critical staff shortage and this program is supporting us to face that head on.

“We’re excited to employ two of our graduating students and have also had strong interest in our next round of student placements.”

“An ultimately rewarding career”

Wendy Williams, one of the graduating students who has secured a role with Lutheran Services, said the opportunity to choose aged care for her final placement instead of a clinical hospital setting was ideal.

“Aged care, in particularly palliative care, was a career goal when I began my studies. It requires a lot of critical thinking to put your practices and education together to work out the optimal care for residents with complex needs – and that is ultimately hugely rewarding,” Wendy said.

“The placement was so valuable – and securing a job at the end with Lutheran Services was icing on the cake.”

UniSC graduate Wendy Williams
UniSC graduate Wendy Williams is now working as a Registered Nurse at Cooinda Aged Care in Gympie

Media enquiries: Please contact the Media Team media@usc.edu.au