Driven by her passion to improve health care for the ageing Australian population, a demographic Sharyn believes is often ‘neglected’ by the system, Sharyn Speakman took on the challenging path of becoming an Acute Aged Care and Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner (NP), so that she can provide a much-needed and timely service to older people in residential aged care (RAC) facilities. Together with other patient driven outcomes, giving people the chance to die with dignity in the way that they prefer was appealing.

Tell us a little bit about your nursing journey.

I have worked as a Registered Nurse (RN) in the Aged Care field for many years. I have always loved the homely environment of RAC, where I could get to know the residents and families over an extended period of time. Developing therapeutic relationships with residents and family/carers is important to understanding the holistic needs of an individual’s health and wellbeing. The biopsychosocial approach combined with the physical condition can be fragmented with short stay hospital care.

Tell us about your current role as a NP.

As with all NP roles in Australia, the beginning was challenging. I was responsible in the creation of my role and scope of practice as a NP in Australia. I now work full time as a NP at an organisation responsible for 3 aged care facilities on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales (NSW). My focus is mainly on the 100 high care bed facility in Taree, where I oversee the health of the residents. I collaborate with the residents’ General Practitioners and Specialists in response to any acute illness or declining condition leading to  end of life care. The role also provides visits to the other 2 facilities which have about 80 low care beds with ageing in place, where there is a weekly NP clinic.

What I love about my role is that it’s so rewarding to be able to provide timely care that is patient focussed and appreciated by residents and families. The outcomes are positive in that we manage to prevent unnecessary hospitalisations, allow residents to spend quality time at the end of their lives cared for by staff they know and love in the facilities which are their homes.

What influenced your decision to become a NP? Why did you choose your scope of practice?

I had worked in the residential Aged Care setting for over 15 years, and during that time saw many unavoidable presentations to hospital. Enabling resident to be palliated in their place of choice is a passion, particularly in relation to this vulnerable and often neglected cohort of Australians for whom we could provide better care.

I wanted to facilitate good health management in the RAC facilities to improve person centred care encompassing wellbeing and prevention of unnecessary hospitalisations. This included advocating for residents to choose to die with comfort and dignity in their own place of residence, rather than a hospital environment. So, after speaking with a respected GP about the role of a NP in residential aged care, I began on the pathway to becoming a NP.

What are you hoping to achieve in your current role as a NP?

I hope to continue to provide an example of an effective NP role within a residential aged care facility. One where the residents and families have confidence in the ability of the NP to provide support and direction to enable the RAC staff to care for and respond to any health crisis. Moreover, I would like to provide an example of an environment where the resident (and their carer/s) know that symptoms will be managed appropriately at the end of their lives.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to become a NP?

Just do it! It’s a lot of hard work and perseverance but it’s so worth it.

How do you think health consumers will benefit from seeing NPs?

Research has shown that NPs provide a timely service for all sorts of health conditions. They usually have more time, are more thorough in their assessments and are more holistic in their approach. I believe these are important aspects that health consumers will enjoy when seeing a NP.