Nurse Sharon Taylor attends the funerals of all the aged-care residents she looks after who die. The relationships she builds with residents and their families extend beyond the professional realm.
"We do shed tears," she says. "We embrace the families and cry with them. But we know where the boundary is as to what's acceptable and what's not."
Taylor is a nurse unit manager with the East Grampians Health Service (EGHS). She says the role is multifaceted. It entails managing her facility to protect the rights and dignity of the residents and families, ensuring the nursing practice is safe and resident-centred, meeting quality standards and advocating for residents, relatives and staff.
Taylor says aged-care nursing once was viewed as a softer job that some nurses would choose to ease into retirement, but such perceptions are a far cry from reality.
Many elderly people remain in their own homes for longer today and by the time they arrive at a high-care facility they are usually frail and in poor condition. As a result, nurses are required to care for residents with complex health issues.
"They unfortunately don't get to stay here with us for very long, in that they arrive at very late stages of their illnesses and usually pass away within a couple of days to maybe six months," Taylor says.
Taylor has had diverse roles in her nursing career. She has been a grade-five supervisor, wound nurse, telephone triage nurse, clinical support nurse educator and university lecturer.
"All of those different areas that I've worked in have played a part in shaping how I've wanted to drive my career into a managerial position, and they've all shaped me as the manager I am today," she says.
Taylor became a nurse at EGHS last October and began as nurse unit manager about four months ago. Making the transition into the manager's role was a baptism of fire, she says. Four days into the job, there was an outbreak of gastroenteritis on site and, six weeks in, her facility had an accreditation review.
She says the reality of being nurse unit manager is a little different from the expectations she had before starting the role. What she didn't anticipate were the demands of dealing with staff, managing different behaviour and conflict. "It's an enormous part of the job."
Taylor has a bachelor of nursing and postgraduate qualifications in health professional education from Monash University. In the second year of her bachelor's degree, she received a scholarship for $10,000 and was admitted into the International Golden Key Society for being a high-achieving nursing student on an international scale.