Supportive personal care workers are among the factors in clinical placements that determine if student nurses will return to the sector after graduation.
While learning opportunities and mentoring have long been seen as important in quality clinical placements for student nurses, a new Australian study has provided the first data to verify which elements of placements are linked to nurses’ desire to work in aged care after graduation.
The study by researchers at the University of Tasmania found that the opportunity to exchange feedback with clinical mentors, a positive teaching and learning environment, and supportive personal care workers were three factors that directly related to the likelihood of graduates working in residential aged care.
The study outlined some “crucial steps” to enhance clinical placements for student nurses in residential aged care that could lead to improved recruitment in the sector.
The workforce challenge facing residential aged care was worsening, as vacancy rates for registered nurses (RNs) in aged care rose to 33 per cent in 2012, up from 26 per cent in 2003, while RNs made up just 15 per cent of the residential aged care workforce in 2012, down from 21 per cent in 2003, the researchers noted.
While previous studies had identified the key features of a quality placement, this was the first to corroborate whether they were linked to students’ perceived likelihood of working in aged care after graduation, said the study based on surveys with 71 nursing students in a clinical placement at two facilities part of the Wicking Teaching Aged Care Facilities program.
A ‘good’ placement
Under the program, facility staff formed a mentor group at each site, made up of nurses and care workers led by a senior RN as mentor leader. Mentors were provided with education, a placement program and a toolkit.
Separate feedback meetings were held with both mentors and students to discuss placement experiences, with comments relayed to the other party.
Students visited the facilities before the placement and discussed their expectations of the program. They were given an orientation and provided with information about the facility. During the placement, they were supported by the mentor group, and participated in regular education sessions as well as the feedback meetings.
Personal carers as mentors
Significantly, the study found that the supportiveness of personal care workers was a determining factor in students’ attitudes to subsequently working in residential care.
“When students feel well supported by care workers, who comprise over two-thirds of the Australian aged care workforce, they are more likely to consider working in a residential facility following graduation,” it concluded.
These findings emphasised the importance of care workers being able to effectively work with and mentor students under the supervision of an RN, according to the researchers, who said their study was the first to quantify the importance of care workers in facilitating a positive placement experience.
However, there was a lack of research on the efficacy of care workers in mentoring nursing students during clinical placements in any environment, let alone aged care, the study noted.
The researchers also said that, while placement programs often facilitated student feedback it was typically in the form of a post-placement survey, whereas the study found that students valued the ability to exchange feedback with mentors during the course of the placement.
Finally, a positive teaching and learning environment was identified as another significant factor, which referred to students’ perceptions of how well their needs were met, assessment of their skills and effectiveness of feedback.
Discussing the implications of the study, the researchers said that the teaching and learning environments within aged care needed improvement, opportunities for mentor-student feedback exchange during placements should be offered, and care workers needed support to mentor effectively.
The study, Aspects of nursing student placements associated with perceived likelihood of working in residential aged care, was published on the Journal of Clinical Nursing last week.
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