A GP's experience of working in a care home

Dr Helen Steinke, a GP who works at Bupa care homes, talks about the challenges and rewards of working in an aged care home.

Dr Helen Steinke believes that holding on to tired perceptions about the elderly can curb your potential to make positive change. For the dedicated GP, who oversees Bupa aged care homes in the Sydney suburbs of Roseville and Willoughby, knowing that her decisions help improve her patients’ quality of life and strengthen their relationships with loved ones are among her job’s most satisfying payoffs.
 
Steinke, who started at Bupa in November 2013 after working in private practice for six years, and who has a background in psychology and palliative care, says, “I just love working with this age group and making a difference.
 
“I had a patient who was verbally unresponsive and inactive all day. I adjusted her tablets and all of a sudden she was awake and talking, opening her eyes and even saying a few words when her family came in to visit. Most people tend to write off the elderly by saying things like ‘There’s no point, what can we change now that they’re 97?’ But there’s lots you can do to help. I love the challenge.”

A team effort

Although working in an aged care home is very different to what she was doing previously, where she often worked alone, Steinke relishes the collaborative aspects of her role. She also says that learning how to factor in relatives’ opinions and learning to work more holistically have drawn on a new set of professional skills.
 
“Bupa Roseville and Bupa Willoughby are each 45-bed homes that house residents aged anywhere from 70 to 103, but while the Roseville residents are much more dependent, those at Willoughby have a wider range of care needs.
 
“The imperative to work as a team is so different from general practice, where my days, which often involved seeing a patient in an aged care home, solving the problem and running back to surgery, were often spent on my own. In my current role, I will always talk to relatives before instituting much of the care of their loved ones, like starting a new medication, and this often adds an extra element to my process. Here, I work closely with the residents, I work with the team and we all consider each other’s needs. Working at an aged care home allows me to get to know the patient in a very holistic way.”

Elderly group workout

Caring around the clock

For Steinke, a typical day could involve anything from doing a daily handover with the clinical manager to consulting with patients and meeting with the wider team.
 
“When I get to work, I usually have a handover with the clinical manager, who’s already spoken with the night nurses and visited the patients that we’re worried about.
 
“After that, I usually walk around the communal area and spend time with residents, or I review medications, as we formally assess our patients to make sure everything is working on a monthly basis.
 
"Before I go home, I ask my residents if they are okay for the night and tell them that I’ll be back tomorrow or in two days’ time, which is so important. I’m actually on call 24/7, because if something goes wrong, I’d prefer that they call me rather than opting for a locum (temporary replacement doctor). I work so closely with my patients that I can usually predict what’s going to happen.”

Bupa Aged Care

Bupa Aged Care Services. Bupa Aged Care, offers a full range of care including respite, residential and specialised dementia care.

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