An aged-care worker in Papamoa, working 30 hours a week in home care, says you have to know your personal limits.
“You’ve got to have good boundaries. You’ve got demands from your clients, from your boss and from your own level of integrity. Find the balances and the barriers to maintain your boundaries so you avoid burnout. The industry is underfunded and under-resourced so it’s usually humans who have to fill those gaps. It puts pressure on the workers. You need to feel secure in yourself to say no to more work if you don’t have capacity for it, and know that it’s OK to say no.”
2. Learn to love the sciences
Sue Gasquoigne, nursing policy advisor and researcher for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation / Toputanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki O Aotearoa, believes an interest in the sciences is important.
“I would really encourage everyone who is thinking they want to move into nursing that in secondary school they learn to love the sciences. So many of our students get into our programme, then discover how important the sciences are, and have to play a lot of catch-up. If you have those fundamentals from school, it makes it easier. While science is only a part of a nursing qualification it’s enough of a part that it can make a student’s life very complicated if they don’t have a background in it.”
Nurses are first and foremost experts in communication, Gasquoigne says.
“It’s not until they understand the situation that the care recipient is in that the nurse understands where that person comes from. We use multiple aspects of communication – it might be having knowledge of another language so they can speak to the care recipient in their language; learning to listen and speak to people; the ability to use touch as a communication tool. It’s more listening than it is talking.”
“Currently there is a social media clip of a nurse who sits every day with a patient who is dying and sings her favourite song with her. It’s a song of hope, and the nurse learnt the melody and the words. You see the family realising it’s not so much the nurse who gives their dying mother her medicine, it’s not so much the nurse who showers her, but it is the nurse who is able to communicate with her on that level.”
4. Embrace change
Dion Howard, a registered nurse, child and adolescent mental health worker says you need to be prepared to change yourself.
“Every day in healthcare, we are guiding, instructing and teaching people how to change behaviours to gain better health. You need to be empathetic with how difficult it can be to change, and prepared to change the things about you – habits, thoughts or points of view – that affect your ability to help people change.”
5. Be prepared to be an unsung hero, and a worker of slow, difficult miracles
Howard says while workers in other industries get accolades, gala dinners, VIP events and other recognition, healthcare workers will get reasonable but not amazing pay for what they do, the respect of elderly people, and a sausage sizzle at Christmas. It’s worth it.
Most health workers will have to take on shift work at some time in their career. It ain’t retail. Be prepared for some FOMO (fear of missing out).
7. Prepare for your idealism to take a battering
Large institutions, sometimes demoralised workforces and passionate people can be brutal. Have a strong sense of self and your values, and keep checking to make sure they remain in good health.