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Health partnership lets students get ‘hands-on’ with seniors


Sharlene King
28 March 2013
Southern Cross University’s School of Health and Human Sciences has joined forces with Crowley Care Services Ballina and St Joseph’s Nursing Home Lismore to provide workplace training to prepare students to work in primary health care with older Australians.

The Primary Health Care for Older People project, funded by a $945,800 grant from Health Workforce Australia, is designed to improve the quality of clinical training of health students and health workers in regional and rural areas.

Nursing, exercise physiology and occupational therapy students are basing themselves at Ballina, working out of the University’s mobile health facility. They are offering individual health assessments to Crowley’s independent living residents, residential care residents and community clients.

Associate Professor Wendy Gilleard, the deputy Head of the School of Health and Human Sciences, said older people were a diverse group with a range of needs and preferences for dealing with their health issues.

“This work placement at Crowley provides our students with the opportunity to gain real world experience of interacting with people over 65, some in their real home settings, who live independently and have volunteered to be our ‘expert’ patients.

“Recent federal government health reforms include a focus on the wellbeing of older Australians, promoting their independence and choice and encouraging them to retain community engagement. Health workers seeking to work in this area need to be sensitive to these needs when delivering care and support.”

Crowley Care Services CEO Michael Penhey said the Primary Health Care for Older People project was a great scheme.

“At Crowley we continually seek innovative, more effective and flexible ways to deliver primary health care to our clients, residents and the community. The project provides invaluable on-the-ground training for our region’s students and delivers vital services right to the doorstep of our residents and clients.”

University project leader Dr Louise Horstmanshof said by inviting the residents to participate in the project, SCU was ensuring that older people had the opportunity to provide input into training development.

“This is such an important, authentic element in our students’ training. We will obtain valuable feedback from older patients as part of the student practitioner-patient encounter to assist in the development of relevant health care for the aged.

“The project will also guide students in better understanding how to provide patient-centred care, and how to recognise ageist stereotypes that impact on quality health care for older people.”

The residents choose to visit a student nurse, exercise physiologist or occupational therapist. The assessments are taking place in the consulting rooms of the mobile health facility. The mobile health facility is a semi-trailer with expanding side capsules and fitted out with a variety of medical equipment to create a consulting room atmosphere.

Combining this hands-on experience with a series of education sessions being delivered during their placements, the students will get to test and develop a range of important clinical skills, including communicating with older people; clinical reasoning; decision making; reflective practice; and inter-professional team work.

The Primary Health Care for Older People project is expected to be rolled out at Crowley’s sister facility on the Mid North Coast, Sawtell Catholic Care of the Aged, in the middle of the year, providing work placement opportunities for students from the University’s Coffs Harbour campus.

Photo: Crowley resident Robyn Carlill doing a strengthening exercise with Master of Clinical Exercise Physiology student Lauren Woods.