APNA’s Aged Care Student Nurse Placement Program

How we’re supporting the next generation of aged care nurses 

By Dani Neal, APNA Communications and Campaigns Coordinator

Source: APNA Primary Times Summer 2023-24 (Volume 23 Issue 2)



Australia is facing a shortfall of registered nurses (RNs) in aged care. One way to address this challenge is to inspire student nurses at the start of their careers to choose to work in this exciting sector over other settings. APNA is doing just that through our Aged Care Student Nurse Placement Program, funded by the Australian Government. We spent some time with Bachelor of Nursing students on a recent placement, observing how the program works and the vital role played by our dedicated clinical nurse facilitators. 

A group of student nurses surround Christine Imrie, a resident of the BlueCross Hansworth Residential Aged Care Facility in the outer Melbourne suburb of Mulgrave. The elegantly dressed senior is the focus of their attention as they listen to their clinical nurse facilitator, Kathryn Twigg, who shows them how to carry out a cardiology check.    

The students are from the Bachelor of Nursing course at Federation University, and Kath peppers them with questions, demanding longer answers where they need to give more detail. The students are getting the chance to put into practice skills they had so far only learned about in the classroom.   

The five future nurses are spending 2 weeks at Hansworth on a placement organised by the Career Pathways team at APNA. As well as learning new skills, it is anticipated that they will leave at the end of the placement with a newfound interest in aged care and ultimately consider making this exciting and challenging sector the focus of their future careers.  

APNA has always been passionate about the idea of offering student nurse placements in aged care and has recently expanded its already successful Student Nurse Placement Program (SNPP). The opportunity to do so arose from the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which set a new requirement for all aged-care facilities to have RNs onsite around the clock as of 1 July 2023.   

‘The aged care sector was saying, well, that's all fine and dandy, but where are we going to find these RNs?’ says Donna Gleisner, general manager of APNA's Career Pathways program. ‘We realised that the way to support the sector was to encourage student nurses to consider a career in aged care.’   

The resulting APNA Aged Care SNPP is one of five initiatives funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care as part of its Aged Care Nursing Clinical Placements Program. The program is designed to show 2nd- and 3rd-year Bachelor of Nursing students the rewarding career opportunities available in aged care. 

Since APNA’s program launched in July 2023, over 150 students from eight universities and other education providers have completed placements at five registered aged-care facilities, with these numbers increasing every week.* 

‘Aged care gives you the opportunity to see the full impact and long-term changes that can be made to improve somebody's quality of life.' — Clinical nurse facilitator Kathryn Twigg 

One of these students is Brett, a working personal care assistant (PCA) with 11 years of experience in aged care. He says the placement has given him a better understanding of the role of an RN. 

‘As a PCA, we see nurses in their role, but we don't really understand what they do,’ says Brett. ‘The placement has changed my perception in a lot of ways because now I understand how much more responsibility a nurse actually has.’  

Fellow student Anna agrees with Brett: ‘Before coming onto this placement, my knowledge of aged-care nursing was very limited. I basically thought our roles were like the personal care assistants, in that we just help with daily living, washing up, feeding and all that stuff. I didn't really know much other than that!’   

She adds that the placement has also helped her widen her knowledge of conditions and diseases that affect older Australians and their quality of life.  

‘During university, it's very limited what we are taught, we just touch on a couple of conditions. But since being here ... we dig into what [a condition] does and how it affects the body, and how to care for someone with that condition.’ 

Clinical nurse facilitator Kath says seeing this new understanding of the role of nursing in aged care inspires her as an educator. APNA employs Kath (along with 27 other clinical nurse facilitators) as a dedicated student nurse facilitator on aged-care placements, a role she relishes.  

‘There's nothing better than watching them have that Aha! moment, that light-bulb moment where it switches on, and you just see this little flicker, and they are like, “Ah, I get it now”,’ Kath says. ‘I want to inspire them to be the best nurse they can be and see how important nurses are in changing people's lives.’  

The Chief Operating Officer at BlueCross, Melanie Mazzarolli, is equally enthusiastic about the program and its benefits.   

‘BlueCross has had partnerships with universities for a very long time but we're very excited about the partnership with APNA as it means we're working with one single provider to support us to deliver a placement experience for people across the business.’   

Melanie says the benefits of hosting student nurses are clear. ‘Having students come into our residences provides us with very contemporary skills, an extra pair of eyes and ears and some new faces for our residents,’ she adds. 

There are also many benefits for students, something she knows well.  

‘I started in aged care at the close of my first placement, and the experience of working in aged care throughout the remainder of my studies gave me a great deal of exposure and an amazing set of foundational skills to set me up for a successful career in nursing.’  

Melanie and Kath agree that the best thing about working in aged care is forming long-term relationships with the residents they care for.    

‘In a lot of acute care settings, it is much more difficult to build meaningful connections and relationships with the patients you are caring for,’ says Melanie. ‘A lot of people choose to go into nursing because they are wanting to care for vulnerable people, and building relationships is a foundation for quality care. It's harder to build an amazing relationship in an environment where it's so fast paced and where people come and go so promptly.’   

Kath agrees. ‘In the acute sector, they come in, and we fix them up, they go again, you never get to see the full impact and long-term changes that can be made to improve somebody's quality of life. Aged care gives you the opportunity to do that,’ she says. 

So, has spending 2 weeks working in aged care influenced which career path our two student nurses will choose?  

Anna says she hasn’t previously considered a career in aged care, but this experience has piqued her curiosity. 

And Brett has always had a long-term plan to return to aged care once he has the skills required to be the best RN he can be. ‘I would eventually like to become an educator (in aged care) like my facilitator,’ he says.  

He ends with some advice for other students on placement in aged care: ‘Just get involved, just get in there, do it, ask questions because this is how we learn.’  

Back in Christine's room, the students finish their lesson with Kath. Christine says she finds being the focus of the budding nurses’ attention very interesting and enjoys cross-checking their answers with her own knowledge of her health. Just the previous day, she was pleased when Brett was listening to her heart and correctly identified she had a condition called mitral valve regurgitation.  

‘And the interesting thing for me, because I know that bits there, nobody can find it – doctors in the hospital can't find it – but he found it without me pointing it out, which I thought was very clever!’   

‘And it's nice; they are all so friendly and make you feel relaxed.’ 

*Figures correct as of 14 November 2023. 

To find out how you can help APNA support the next generation of nurses in aged care, visit the Career Pathways page on the APNA website: www.apna.asn.au/profession/career-pathways.  

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