Nursing graduates steer clear of aged care

Less than 2 per cent of graduate nurses want to work specifically with the elderly, new data reveals.

And with a rapidly ageing population in New Zealand, drastic changes to the way that new nursing graduates are recruited needs to occur, says the New Zealand Nursing Organisation (NZNO).

The stark numbers were revealed at a recent Waikato District Health Board meeting in a presentation by nursing and midwifery director Sue Hayward.

They showed that of the 1239 nurse entry to practice (NETP) applicants, only 20 wanted to work with the elderly.

Just seven wanted to work in aged residential care, and 13 wanted to work in the health of older persons at the DHB. The most popular area of future study was surgery (269), followed by medical (179), mental health and addiction (143) and paediatrics (119).

The numbers were concerning to NZNO associate professional services manager Hilary Graham-Smith because of New Zealand's ageing population.

Waikato is expected to have about 69,000 people aged over 65 by 2021 - or 17.6 per cent of the population, a 14.1 per cent increase on current numbers.

The number of people aged over 85 is also predicted to rise, from 1.6 per cent of the population now (6040), to 2.1 per cent (8160).

Mrs Graham-Smith said Health Workforce New Zealand needed to take a careful look at how it was recruiting new graduates to the work force.

Private elder care providers also needed to have a good think about why nurses didn't want to work in the sector - including looking at increasing pay rates and changing the work force structure so they had more than one registered nurse working each shift.

"The thing that concerns new graduates is really that they have a nervousness, as a new graduate, being put in a sole-charge position in a large facility with increased responsibility.

"I mean that's quite daunting for even experienced registered nurses. The level of accountability is very high and the risk even higher."

Mrs Graham-Smith said young nurses might also be concerned about how their career would progress if they started in elder care.

Second-year Wintec nursing student Stephane Steele, 23, has her sights set on working in plastics and burns when she graduates at the end of next year.

"I'm interested in it because it's very hands on and there is a lot of wound care, which I'm very passionate about," she said.

She was put off aged care because she found it "boring and tedious".

"I think that's why it's so hard to get a lot of new graduates [in that area]."

Most of her classmates wanted to work in the operating theatre or neonatal intensive care unit.

Miss Steele said one way to get new graduates into aged care could be for rest homes to pay for a part of the nurses' study fees on the proviso they would work at the home when they graduated.

"That could be one of the few things that might sway the nurses to go there. But I think you really have to be a kind of special person to work in aged care - you really have to like your job."

Waikato Times