‘Job swap’ to fast track aged care nursing career

1 July 2013

With a workforce crisis looming in aged care nursing, Christchurch is headhunting and helping the new generation of aged care nurses to fast track their careers. Fiona Cassie finds out more about the Gerontology Acceleration Programme (GAP).

There was a buzz around the tea cups at a recent gathering in Christchurch.

It’s not that often that you get a group of aged care nursing leaders and gerontology clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners in a room with a bunch of nurses shoulder-tapped to hopefully follow in their footsteps.

The occasion was the introductory afternoon tea for the nurses, preceptors, mentors and managers signed up to Canterbury District Health Board’s new GAP (gerontology acceleration programme) scheme.

The looming workforce crisis in aged care nursing has prompted Canterbury to create the ‘fast track’ programme to start building future nurse leaders for the sector.

Six nurses – two from Christchurch residential aged care facilities and four from Canterbury District Health Board older people’s health related wards – have been selected for the inaugural programme, which got underway in late May.

The one year programme includes postgraduate study and “job-swapping” between workplaces, so the rest home nurses experience working in DHB services and the DHB nurses experience nursing in residential aged care.

Kate Gibb, the DHB’s older people’s health nursing director, says the idea for the scheme grew out of a committee formed in mid-2011 to look at post-quake issues for older people’s health, particularly workforce issues.

Even before the quakes, there was a real sense of a looming workforce crisis, with half the nurses working in residential aged care in Canterbury over the age of 50 and 20 per cent over 60.

First for New Zealand

The result has been the Gerontology Acceleration Programme (GAP), which supports the development – both professional and academic – of motivated registered nurses already working in older people’s health who have the potential to be future clinical leaders, specialists or managers.

Gibb says the GAP scheme is not only a first for Canterbury but also a first across New Zealand for gerontology nursing.

Jenny Gardner, the DHB’s coordinator of postgraduate nursing education, says a similar nursing ‘exchange’ programme has been carried out in-house, but this is the first time the job swaps have been between DHB and non-DHB workplaces.

Each of the six nurses will have two 12-week clinical rotations where they will step in and fill the shoes of their fellow GAP nurse while staying on the payroll and pay conditions of their home employer. During each rotation, they will have an orientation period where they will be supernumerary and be assigned a preceptor at that workplace. The GAP nurses have also all been allocated a mentor for the programme, a gerontology clinical nurse specialist or NP, to assist them in setting goals and helping them advance their gerontology nursing practice.

Gardner says the programme is also working very closely with the University of Otago’s Centre for Postgraduate Nursing Studies. Each of the GAP nurses will be expected to complete Otago’s postgraduate gerontology paper in the first half of the programme and then (during the third and final 12 week rotation when they are back with their home employer) the advanced health assessment paper. Two of the nurses have already done some of the papers and will do related postgraduate papers.

Whole big world of gerontology

One of the GAP nurses, Ruth Cahutay, is a Philippines-trained nurse who has been working as an RN on nightshift at BUPA’s Parklands aged care facility since 2009 after completing her competency assessment programme at CPIT.

Having already completed her postgraduate health assessment paper last year Cahutay believes the GAP scheme will be a good experience and a good chance to get out and meet other people working in the same field.

“There’s a whole big world out there of gerontology, and I don’t think there’s a lot of nurses who are going down that path.”

Fellow Philippines-trained nurse Gene Cruz has been working at Bishop Selwyn Lifecare for six years and was persuaded to put her hand up for the programme by her manager.

“When I first came to New Zealand, I thought it (residential aged care nursing) would be just a stepping stone, but I loved it from the start.”

She has been doing a graduate certificate in gerontology at CPIT and is looking forward to her rotations, particularly to the dementia and delirium ward (K1), as Bishop Selwyn doesn’t have a dementia unit.

Grace Amoafo is still new to nursing and older person’s health, having just completed her new graduate programme in February. The Christchurch Polytechnic of Technology graduate says her original intention was to go into a medical ward but her second new graduate placement was in Princess Margaret Hospital’s K1 ward for dementia and delirium and she found she liked the work and found the staff very supportive.

Her first GAP rotation will be into residential aged care, which she knows little about but is aware that you can be the only registered nurse on a shift with health care assistants doing most of the hands-on caring.

“So it’s an area where you can feel very isolated,” says Amoafo. “It’s only when I get there that I will really know what the RN’s role is, and I’m really looking to learning what really goes on.”

She is also looking forward to the postgraduate study, particularly building her skills with the health assessment course.