The Highs and Lows of 50 years of nursing
It’s been a big year for Hillsborough Heights Village Care Services Manager Helen Cohen. Not only was she named Geneva New Zealand Nurse of the Year, but 2020 also marks Helen’s 50th year of nursing. She talks to us about the rewards and challenges of a lifetime devoted to others.
What are your most memorable career moments?
I’ve worked across the whole spectrum – from paediatrics to palliative care. I started out with babies in the heart unit. It was amazing – but having had my own children (I’ve got five!) you realise how hard it is for those families. For the last 30 years I’ve been a facility manager at hospitals and rest homes. I’ve always had a passion for end of life care and have worked extensively with hospice. It’s an incredible privilege to be part of a family’s journey as they move through the end of life process. To help someone through their final time is the most amazing, unreal experience.
What’s changed in 50 years?
Geriatric nursing has changed enormously – now it’s an entire specialty area. The mental health services in aged care are amazing, with so much more available for people than there used to be. The changes in palliative care have been incredible too. In my early nursing days, it was soul destroying for both the nurses and the patients, but now end of life care has become a whole journey which everybody is part of. Today people have choices, from pain relief and treatment options to things they want to enjoy before they die. I’ve helped organise everything from weddings to pyjama parties for hospice patients. These things make a huge difference .
What do you love about aged care?
I’ve been at Hillsborough Heights Village for five years. I love it because it’s very homely and we’re a small tight-knit team. I enjoy using my palliative care expertise to support our residents to continue living independently even if their health changes – if that’s what they want. However, I’ve learnt that sometimes moving from independent accommodation into a care home is the absolute best thing. I’ve seen residents gain a new lease of life once they’ve moved into residential care because all the worry is taken away and all they need to concentrate on is living their best life.
What was it like being a nurse during COVID?
Residents and staff got a lot closer during lockdown. It wasn’t easy but it did provide an opportunity to connect more. Every day you learn something new about people. The elderly have such amazing stories – we think we’ve had it hard this year, but when you talk to some of the residents about the tragedies and difficulties they’ve faced during their lives it puts things in perspective and is very humbling. You can learn so much about yourself when you take the time to listen.
What would you say to someone considering a career in aged care nursing?
There are so many amazing career opportunities in aged care now, such as specialising in dementia. It’s a fascinating area that has grown enormously and it’s incredibly rewarding.