A letter from the heart to aged care workers

Judith Leeson AM

Ambassador, Caring Futures Institute; Advocate for quality aged care service

I am in receipt of home care and support, and highly value the contribution of my designated workers who enable me to live happily in my own home with my husband. As a strong advocate for person-led care and support, I hold aged care providers to the highest standards, looking for evidence-informed practice, and the embedding of care and compassion into all relationships and interventions.

Reflecting on my own career development over many decades of constant change, innovation, and technological advance I have been part of the generation who entered the workforce, not long after the end of World War ll, as a young teacher with modest qualifications, enormous enthusiasm and an aptitude and passion for teaching and learning. My career in early childhood education was marked by a compelling desire to make a difference to young children who were disadvantaged by nature and nurture, or by both. While my qualifications were modest my motivation was strong, and after eight years teaching in rural and metropolitan schools, I moved into a leadership position which required not only skills and knowledge, but also the ability to search out models of evidence-informed practice. However, I doubted my ability to re-engage with formal study, and at that stage could not see the advantages of gaining further qualifications. Fast forward, following some years overseas, and then as a stay-at-home mum, I re-entered the workforce, part-time, working with young children with serious developmental delays in the community. I really enjoyed the high standard of in-house professional development and loved mastering new tools and techniques. While my experience enabled me to learn quickly and apply that to practice, I was not really regarded as a professional, and was restricted from operating in some areas where I had a natural aptitude. Moreover, I was sometimes frustrated by having my practice questioned, my abilities curtailed, and my desire for further responsibility denied. I did not believe that the standard of my work was lower than that of my more formally qualified colleagues. I was very apprehensive about undertaking further studies, and fearful of failure, but after some delays and much encouragement I enrolled in a two-year, part-time Diploma of Early Childhood bridging course, while I was working part-time. I discovered that my previous and current experience enabled me to apply my learning to my studies, and that gaining higher level qualifications enabled me to successfully apply for promotion positions.

My intellectual progress, increased mastery of my skills, and the ability to translate theory into practice, enabled me to offer a higher level of service to my clients, and incidentally enabled me to create a more satisfying career pathway. But I remember that as the fear of failure gradually gave way to a growing sense of competence, my time management skills reflected my new priorities, and I began to value my experience as a framework for new learning. I also acquired a taste for learning that drives me to this day.

I can see some similarities with my career journey, and that of many workers in community and residential aged care and support, with rich life experiences, helpers by nature, and dedicated to their clients, who are learning informally as they work, but who doubt the relevance or logistics of undertaking further learning through some more formal study.

So, dear Care Worker, I encourage you to consider and undertake further learning, and to construct a career path which provides you and your clients with the confidence that you are, with your experience and knowledge, willing and able to offer exemplary care and support to your cohort of elders. One of my values for living is to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, and if one of you is motivated to break out of your comfort zone to embark on your own learning journey, I will be delighted, and will celebrate your courage.

*The views and opinions expressed in Knowledge Blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ARIIA, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.