Good support is key to building nursing resilience in aged care


As nurses, our work satisfaction is greatest when we are helping others when they need it most.

I started in this amazing job almost four decades ago – the eldest of seven children with a mum who was a nurse and a dad who worked as a policeman. Dad’s job meant we moved a lot. We lived in a lot of different communities from the Darling Downs to Mossman and the Atherton Tablelands at Ravenshoe. My final schooling years were spent at boarding school at Mount St Bernard’s in Herberton.

I cannot remember exactly when I decided I would become a nurse but I have fond memories of being amongst young trainee nurses sent into the wards of the Cairns Base Hospital at the age of 17. Most of us were fresh out of school and learnt early to fall back on one another.

We spent six weeks under the guidance of nurse educators before putting our new skills into practice. I remember it being intense with a need for a lot of camaraderie among everyone. We were working long hours, having lots of different experiences. Some of us were in surgical wards, others in medical but we all learnt very quickly the importance of good support networks.

These are lessons I now use everyday in the aged-care setting where I oversee the nursing team – of both clinical and registered nurses – at Ozcare Malanda Aged Care Facility. It is a major part of my job to be a mentor to these nurses. But I really do have a huge amount of admiration for them in return. Aged care nursing is challenging but being supportive of our team is a big focus in our approach. There is no one style that works with everyone but being flexible and understanding is crucial.

There are many who are new to our little town, travelling from other countries to take up roles here. They have not only retrained in Australia but have learnt to speak a new language. Working alongside one another, they have gained the respect of residents and others in our community, a long way from the comfort of places they know. Sometimes they are in their first full-time nursing roles here and I feel very proud when they decide to stay and make a commitment to our community.

While I am grateful for the opportunity to develop and mentor the next generation of nurses, I am careful not to make any assumptions because working in a rural area is not for everyone. Offering full-time positions is one way our organisation has kept staff – and many have chosen to stay on for two years or more. We also believe in providing career pathways – the chance to work elsewhere within our organisation or to advance to other senior roles. We talk a lot in aged care about providing choice for our seniors. I am really proud to offer choice for our staff as well. They can be novices when they arrive, but within a year have developed the confidence to oversee services. I see it as my job to help them develop that expertise.

Nursing training has evolved during the course of my career. There are many more people applying for jobs from abroad. There is also a greater focus on gaining knowledge in a tertiary setting. But many more people are making the switch to nursing from other careers, bringing wisdom and life experience into the job. They are making our workplaces more dynamic and resilient – attributes in strong demand as organisation work hard to retain staff longer.

Written by Mary English, Ozcare Facility Manager – Malanda

[Mary English is the Facility Manager at Ozcare Malanda and is the winner of the Excellence in Leadership & Governance Category of the 2020 Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union Professional Practice Awards.]