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Love of learning

The aged care workforce is an increasingly educated group of professionals, with a growing interest in acquiring new skills, knowledge and training in order to develop their professional capacity and delver improved outcomes, recent surveys show.

Here, Australian Ageing Agenda meets two aged care professionals who are undertaking further studies and are passionate about the difference this higher learning will make.

Investigating dignity therapy in aged care

Jo-Anne Coughlan’s masters examines the transition of seniors who have minimal or no cognitive impairment into residential care.

Jo-Anne Coughlan’s masters examines the transition of seniors who have minimal or no cognitive impairment into residential care.

In her day job, Jo-Anne Coughlan wears two hats.

As the learning and innovations coordinator with Juniper Annesley aged care, she acts as link between the facility and Curtin University regarding students on placement and research opportunities, and she coordinates the mentor program that supports student and staff learning. Second, as inter-professional placement coordinator, a position employed through Curtin University, Coughlan is involved in the coordination of health science students on site at Annesley.

Coughlan has been nursing since 1973, when she commenced her general nursing training in NSW. Since then she has worked in a number of clinical areas such as neurosurgery, infection control and nurse management positions. She has held quality improvement and clinical risk positions in NSW and WA.

She has completed several postgraduate courses including a graduate diploma in intensive care nursing and a graduate certificate in remote health practice.

Coughlan moved into an aged care management role in 2008, initially because she needed a job having moved from the Kimberley, but she soon found the sector “reignited my passion for nursing as it enabled me to use all the skills and knowledge I had gained since I started nursing.”

Coughlan is currently further developing those skills and knowledge, by undertaking a Master of Philosophy in Nursing through Curtin University.

“My research is looking at dignity therapy in the aged care setting to see if it can assist with the transition of residents who have minimal or no cognitive impairment into residential aged care. As a research study the information is gathered through interviews with resident, staff and families,” she says.

Coughlan started the program in 2012 after attending a workshop in dignity therapy. She hopes to finish in June 2016.

She says she is enjoying learning about the realities of the research process and the impact that it can have on participants and the research community.

Time is the most challenging aspect of undertaking the program, Coughlan says, as she has to continue working. “There are many days I would rather spend doing my research that go to work. I also find that colleagues in the acute sector are at times not interested in aged care and the research that is happening. I find this not only challenging to accept but disappointing professionally,” she says.

Discussing what she is hoping to achieve through her course, Coughlan says she would like to be able to influence change in aged care through research and education.

She says she would encourage those in aged care to undertake study opportunities. “It can be very daunting to begin with but very much worth the effort.”

Researching ways to reduce BPSD

Occupational therapist Sofia Venuti is undertaking a masters that will evaluate the translation of staff knowledge into practice.

Sofia Venuti’s masters will evaluate the translation of staff knowledge into practice

The theme of Sofia Venuti’s studies is using non-pharmacological approaches to try to reduce the behavioural and psychological symptoms experienced by people with dementia or cognitive impairment living in residential aged care.

Venuti is currently undertaking a Master’s of Applied Science – Research through the University of Sydney. Her research component looks at using and evaluating the Integrated Cognitive & Sensory Program, which is an approach that aims to translate staff knowledge into practice and reduce these symptoms experienced by people living with dementia.

In her role as occupational therapist at Sir Moses Montefiore Jewish Home, Venuti works with residents to prevent falls and pressure injuries, maximise their participation and safety in activities of daily living, and assess cognitive and physical function.

Her role also involves developing and delivering training for staff in areas such as how to understand and meet the needs of residents with dementia and cognitive impairment. Last year she was involved in a research study that explored the effects of an integrated cognitive and sensory program on residents with dementia, which was a collaboration between Montefiore, the University of Sydney and University of NSW.

Venuti says most of her time in the next few years will be devoted to developing, conducting, evaluating and presenting the research though different mediums. The course is largely self-directed, with the regular guidance and supervision of nominated supervisors at the University of Sydney, as well as UNSW. Actual coursework is done as required and is either face-to-face or online, depending on how it’s offered, she says.

Undertaking the program part-time Venuti is due to finish in 2019, but may be able to finish earlier or consider other postgraduate options.

Undertaking further study is an excellent way to gain new skills such as project management and public speaking, which can open up opportunities for future career growth, she says.

“It’s also a great way to network and expand your horizons for possible long term career paths. Further study also provides formal recognition for the valuable work that many professionals may already be doing. Their work and evidence can then contribute to the body of knowledge for others to use in their practice.”

An extended version of this report features in the current AAA magazine (October-November 2015).

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One Response to Love of learning

  1. Caroline October 28, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    I’d like to think the workforce is professional beyond certification courses in community or aged care. It would be interesting to investigate the care workforce, both clinical and non-clinical, who are pursuing qualifications (both TAFE and university programs) or who have recent qualifications. It’s no point stating that one has a qualification if it’s something acquired in 1980 as knowledge is changing so rapidly. But more importantly, it would be interesting to find out if people with qualifications are actually in workplaces that align with their qualifications or if skills can be applied in a workplace and used to advantage.

    I suppose I’m a champion for myself in doing a second undergrad program and now doing postgraduate study in counselling with the intent of assisting both care workers and people moving through different life transitions (retirement, reduced work, loss of family, job, illness, leaving home, etc). So much is happening that is unrecognised and uncredited in its people which is such an oxymoron for the ‘care’ sector. The ‘workforce’ is seen in such narrow terms that it’s a shame. Some of us have huge study debts and want to use skills in the sector. It’s a struggle!

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