Dr Tracey McDonald AM PhD FACN, Professor of Ageing, 2006
Students of nursing frequently discuss with me the roles they anticipate will be available to them when they graduate and seek employment in large acute hospitals. Chief among their impressions of clinical roles in hospitals are their involvement in the urgent care of young and middle-aged people with interesting conditions and exciting treatment interventions.
It is not surprising therefore when newly graduated registered nurses enter the hospital system with an attitude that patients aged 55 years and over are unusual in the array of patients to whom they provide care. They also register surprise at the slower response older people have to treatment and begin to believe that this response rate is abnormal.
Yet the reality of hospital inpatient services utilization differs quite markedly from such impressions held by new graduates. Across Australia people aged 55+ years account for a large proportion of inpatient admissions to hospitals (AIHW 2004 – 2004). This group accounted for 23.2% of the estimated hospital population and contributed 49.6% of separations (3.4 million) and 60.7% of patient days (14.3 million) in December 2003. The only group of patients experiencing more separations per 1,000 population were babies under 12 months of age! Patients aged 70+ years had higher average lengths of stay than any other age group. If hospital nurses and doctors think they are not working in aged care then they should just look around the hospital wards to get in touch with a nibble of reality and adjust their attitudes and skills accordingly.