A lot of attention gets paid to nursing roles that seem, to people outside the field, exciting or highly rewarding. Neonatal and pediatric nurses, emergency room and intensive care nurses, and even cancer care nurses are heavily represented during National Nurses Week. Less so are geriatric care nurses. And they deserve their due.
Without these caring, attentive professionals, seniors and their family caregivers in Cincinnati and beyond would be left in quite a lurch. Today, we’d like to take a moment to examine the vital roles that geriatric care, residential care and in-home care nurses play in our nation’s elder care system. And we’d like to celebrate them.
(Malia at Marjorie P. Lee)
What makes geriatric care nurses so special?
For one, they’re willing to do the job. If you asked a roomful of new nursing students which medical specialties they’re interested in pursuing , only a few may say elder care. Why?
Many elderly people suffer from serious chronic illnesses: Alzheimer’s and other age-related dementias, heart disease, diabetes, post-stroke syndrome, lung diseases and cancers included. They need close medical management (especially when they need to take multiple daily prescriptions) and even closer monitoring.
Many, too, can’t do as much to help themselves as younger adults. Our most vulnerable seniors need mobility assistance, help bathing and using the bathroom, lifting help, cooking and cleaning assistance — all tasks that are physically and emotionally taxing. It takes an individual with fortitude, a cheerfully willing disposition and physical strength to be able to do the job.
As a result, many nursing students choose not to pursue careers in elder care. They might perceive geriatric care to be demanding, difficult, less rewarding or even depressing.
Geriatric nursing is often one
of the most rewarding roles in nursing
— both spiritually and financially.
And while no one could reasonably say that elder care is easy or that it isn’t sometimes fatiguing, no one can honestly say that it’s never rewarding. In fact, it’s often one of the most rewarding roles in nursing — both spiritually and financially.
Elder care recipients and their families are incredibly gracious. Often, they’re not as concerned as younger adults with crossing tasks off their lists, or with “keeping up appearances.”
They’re retired. Those who need nursing care aren’t in the best health. They’re worried more about how their immediate needs will be met than they are about what life will be like for them a year or more from now.
So, when we help our older residents — assisting them from beds to walkers, bathing them, cooking or cleaning for them, dispensing their medications, listening to them and talking with them — they are very thankful.
And they show that thanks. They smile. They tell us how much our help means to them. They give us hugs and introduce us to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They tell us stories about their lives and let us into their world. They clue us in on the hard-knock life lessons they learned in their youth, in the hopes of helping us to avoid difficulties and live our lives easier than they had it. And they impart to us their deep, life-learned wisdom.
None of that happens in pediatric medicine. It rarely happens in the trauma bay or on the acute care wards. That’s not to suggest those nursing fields aren’t rewarding in their own right. But they offer far fewer chances for nurses to get to know — really know — those they serve and their families. They see gratitude, but it’s often fleeting and superficial. Patients move on, they grow up, and nurses in those fields often lose track of them.
But, in elder care, we often see our residents through to the completion of their life journeys. And when our residents pass from this life, we’re momentarily sad for them, for their families, and for ourselves. But we’re inspired by what we’ve learned from them. And we’re honored to have been there for them in the last years of their lives. It feels sacred. It’s our special calling.
Do you feel the call to be an elder care provider?
Although the demand for geriatric care nurses is great, the supply of willing providers is too low. At Episcopal Retirement Services, we provide dignified, person-centered care to all our residents. And if that appeals to you, we need you.
And, most of all, we wish you and your colleagues a very happy National Nurses Week! You deserve the recognition. All of it.