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In pursuit of critical mass in enlightened aged care leadership

McDonald, T. A. & Young, R., 2011

IAHSA Conference, Washington, USA.


Registered nurses in aged care are pivotal to the good management and clinical safety of residential and community care of older people. Since 2003 a decline of around 1600 registered nurse positions across Australian residential aged care services (National Institute of Labour Studies (NILS) 2007) is yet to be explained however anecdotal evidence suggests that registered nurses do not find aged care practice rewarding in terms of career opportunities.

The average age of aged care nurses in Australia is around 50 years with 12.2% aged 60+ years while the majority (93.4%) are women (NILS, 2008). The average age of all employed nurses in 2005 was 45.1 years. Those aged 50+ years are rapidly increasing accounting for 35.8% of employed nurses (AIHW 2009) Projections by NILS (2008) and Access Economics (2009) are that nurses aged 55–65 years will increase by 3,225 FTE (18%) by 2020 representing the fastest growing group of nurses employed in aged care.

The aged care industry has over 6,000 managers most of whom are nurses, most of whom have little or no management training, many of whom take on management roles without any training or support. Often when an aged care facility fails operationally it is because this care management group has for one reason or another also failed. We have recognized the need to support clinical leadership/management as a legitimate career path option for nurses who wish to pursue this management career option. Aged care management can offer interested nurses a distinct shortcut to a strong career option, certainly a fast track compared to many other components of the health system. Creating a professional management group within aged care will also improve the standing of the industry and define aged care management as a legitimate option for nurses.

This core of managers is central to quality service performance in aged care, strategies developed to give this and future generations of managers the skills, expertise and mentoring support will create a critical mass of professional managers and leaders. Such a strategy has been operating in the United States of America (USA) for two to three years. The Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) program has been evaluated, with the results showing that nurses who have completed the program have all undertaken professional, clinical and industry leadership growth. The STTI program is mentorship based with online theoretical learning about leadership, as well as networking and discussion group work.

STTI, RCNA, ACU and ACAA are implementing a similar program in Australia, using the RCNA website and calling upon ACAA leaders and RCNA members of the Health and Wellbeing in Ageing Faculty to act as mentors. By October 2011 this program will have been in operation for 9 -10 months and continuously evaluated.

Description of what will take place during the presentation:

The Australian program will be presented and discussed in terms of issues arising for project partners and participants. Contributions from RCNA in hosting on-site workshops and working with ACAA leaders and RCNA faculty to deliver the workshop program will be described along with information technology solutions to geographic distance problems. By October 2011 the cohort of leaders undertaking the program will be nearing completion and their perspectives and suggestions as to the value of the program and its impact on their career aspirations will be available to share with IAHSA participants.

CITATION McDonald T.& Young, R. (2011) In pursuit of critical mass in enlightened aged care leadership. International Accommodation and Health Services for the Aged (IAHSA) and Leading Age Conference “Celebrate Age”. October 16-19. Washington Convention Centre, Washington, DC, USA.

NOTE Reference: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (2009) Residential aged care in Australia 2007-08 Report No.28.

Last updated 18/11/2019
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