Career advice

Changing perceptions

Aileen Waton says working at a good care home can lead ti career progression and personal development

Aileen Waton's career in nursing is far removed from the one she originally wanted to pursue, in interior design.

Now Bupa UK area manager in Glasgow, Ms Waton had not thought she would become a nurse when she was growing up, and she decidedly did not want to work in a care home.

‘Before going to university, I worked for a few months in a care home to earn some money, but I didn’t enjoy it,’ she recalls. ‘I had expected to sit and chat with residents and didn’t know that I would be involved in personal care. That was probably due to being young and inexperienced.’

After failing to get the grades she needed for art school, Ms Waton considered her other options. Her interest in mental health and psychiatry led her to specialise in personality disorders as part of a nursing degree at Paisley University, now the University of the West of Scotland.

On qualifying as a nurse, she struggled to find a suitable job, but began working nights as a staff nurse at Bupa’s Fullerton care home in Ayrshire.

‘I enjoyed it and found there were lots of opportunities,’ she says. ‘I like the variety of care home work, and seeing residents who are happy and well cared for. I like improving the standard of care and raising the profile of care homes.’

Within a year and a half Ms Waton had become a unit manager at the home and was looking after 25 residents.

‘I was only 21 when I started there,’ she says. ‘We had to learn how to involve the right professionals and consultants at the right time.’

Since then, Ms Waton has worked in various roles, including home manager and regional support manager, in different care homes in Scotland, but she has never worked for the NHS.

‘It is good to move around in care home nursing and be exposed to different challenges,’ she says. ‘It has enabled me to increase the breadth of my experience.’

Even though Ms Waton did not relish the thought of care home work before embarking on her career, one of her ambitions now is to change people’s views about the sector.

‘There is a perception that we work in a low-skill environment and do not provide a high level of care, but the opposite is true,’ she says.

‘We often provide care to people who would otherwise be in hospital experiencing delayed discharges. When patients come back from hospital, they may have lost weight, become dehydrated and have pressure ulcers, and we must deal with these issues.’

Ms Waton has observed how nursing students on placements often arrive at her care homes with a negative impression of the sector.

To change these perceptions she hopes to develop a closer rapport between the NHS, universities and social care.

‘We are going to universities to try to change the message before the students have heard it,’ she explains.

‘Attracting people to work for care homes is challenging in Scotland and we have a high number of nurse vacancies.’

Asked what she sees as the plus points of working in care homes, Ms Waton responds: ‘We have career progression and development opportunities, and staff are hardworking and committed to residents. One of the biggest satisfactions for us is seeing residents who are well cared for.’

She says that, as well as offering a structured and supported career path, her care homes offer bonuses and overtime incentives, pay nurse-registration fees and consider succession planning. Staff can also ‘buy’ extra holiday time.

Ms Waton is proud of the work she has done in the two and a half years she has managed the Glasgow team. All nine of the homes she leads have become compliant with the Care Inspectorate during this time and have been given higher grades for their standards of care.

‘All have achieved grades of 4 and 5. I don’t know of any other team that has achieved this level of quality across a portfolio of 900 beds. My team has worked amazingly hard to achieve and maintain this standard.’

Reflecting on what has contributed to her success, Ms Waton says: ‘Employing good managers, having a consistent approach, and respecting and working with my team. Keeping my colleagues and home managers happy is crucial.’

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