Blue Care Woodlands Lodge

“UNEXPECTED KINDNESS IS THE MOST POWERFUL, LEAST COSTLY, AND THE MOST UNDERRATED AGENT OF HUMAN CHANGE” - BOB KERREY

We all take friendship, love, and laughter for granted. However, for many elderly Gold Coast residents social isolation is ever-present – until now.

With rapid growth expected in Australia's residential aged care sector in the next few decades there are concerns that more older Australian’s will suffer from isolation, and more medical professionals will be out-of-touch with older adult health issues.

Blue Care Woodlands Lodge is tackling the complexity of geriatric health with the aid of Griffith University and their Service-Learning initiative.

Service Learning at Griffith University has partnered with the organisation to give students an opportunity to undertake a Community Internship, a nationally award-winning multidisciplinary civic engagement subject, to enhance their compassionate professionalism in the health science field.

So far 45 students, also known as Friendly Visitors, have donated 2 250 hours of fun, happiness and laughter to the organisation. They share conversations and interests, play games and music, and share a cup of tea each week with the residents.

They also assist with activities such as craft, bingo, quizzes, reading and knitting groups, cooking classes, hand pampering, seasonal events, games, cards, outings, and other fun activities.

Blue Care volunteer coordinator Val Vitobello said youthful energy in the aged care facility was a blessing for the residents, but also gave students a plethora of soft skills necessary to thrive as a health professional.

“Students learn to talk with another generation,” she said.

“They change, grow, and mature. It is wonderful to see the transformation.

“Students help in all areas, and even bring dress-ups, play the piano or guitar

“They think of innovative activities to engage seniors who may be feel lonely or isolated.

“It is a fantastic initiative we have. We could not do what we do without the volunteers.”

Current research suggests students who study health related degrees are often hesitant of aged care and not adequately prepared for geriatric medicine beyond university.

With an ageing population it is important for students to develop more than just a set of clinical skills, and overcome patient dehumanisation, diseased focused medicine, ritualised professional identity, and emotional neutralisation.

Griffith University Bachelor of Exercise Science student Julia Rodriguez Pipo said volunteering at the aged care facility gave her the opportunity to get hands on experience in the industry.

“Blue Care has been a wonderful experience to learn more about dynamic multidisciplinary treatment teams, build communication skills, and encourage older Australians to be cheerful, sing and dance,” she said.

“It is such a rewarding experience personally and professionally.

“By the end of my internship I developed a range of skills beyond those taught in my textbook and lectures.”

With an aim of addressing disadvantage, the Griffith University Community Internship program has provided 150 000 volunteer hours to a variety of not-for-profit organisations, schools and government organisations since 2012.

Current research suggests a community-based experiential learning program, like the Community Internship is more beneficial in comparison to classroom and stimulation-based activities. The volunteering program challenges health science students to become resourceful, independent, and an empathetic listener.

Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics student Bianca Lundt said she enjoyed helping residents with dementia cook a weekly meal.

“I get so much enjoyment each week volunteering at Blue Care,” she said.

“Aged care is an important aspect of the community, which is often left behind.”

Anne-Marie Do said working at the aged-care facility was a fulfilling experience and helped her prepare for her hospital placement.

“As a volunteer I learnt important communication techniques such as: paraphrasing, empathy statements, and summarising,” she said.

“I felt this allowed me to keep conversations focused around them so that they felt listened to and valued.”

Griffith University Medicine program director Niru Nirthanan said volunteering in aged care encouraged students to enhance their workforce acclimatisation, professional socialisation, patient-physician relations, and critical self-reflection.

“It is expected students pursuing medicine have a range of soft skills, which are often not typically taught in a classroom setting,” he said.

“It gives students an opportunity to understand medicine is not black and white.

“As a medical professional you need to be resilient, empathetic, have reflective practices, and understand and respect the role of caregivers and other professionals in the treatment team.

“I encourage more students from medicine, health science, and human services to jump outside their comfort zone and volunteer in aged-care. You will learn a lot.”

Blue Care, an Australian not-for-profit organisation, is a leading provider of community health and residential aged care, caring for more than 12,500 people every day.

Blue Care Woodlands Lodge offers students a rewarding volunteer experience. For further information please contact the Griffith University Service Learning Team.

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