Karen Sanders | Registered Nurse

In celebration of Aged Care Employee day on August 7, each day this week we're sharing the stories of some of our incredible staff.


Meet Karen Sanders, one of the Registered Nurses who cares for our clients by carrying out health assessments, wound care and much more. " When we see people in their own homes, we get to know the whole person, understand what they care about and who cares for them. We understand how health issues can make life difficult but we also get to know the things that bring them joy and meaning and I always look to bring those things into the conversation. I find it a really beautiful, well-rounded way of supporting people who need a bit of help to continue on at home as they age.”



What is your role at Community Gateway?

I work as a Registered Nurse part-time. I’ve been with Community Gateway for more than 18 months now.


What was your experience with Nursing before joining Community Gateway?

In October this year, I will have been nursing for 49 years. I’ve done a bit of everything in that time. For the last 20 years, I’ve worked in Community Nursing roles managing chronic disease. Prior to that I worked for 20 years as a midwife and as an Emergency Department nurse before that. It’s been interesting, that’s for sure.


You’ve spent the last 15 years in Community roles. What is it about Community Nursing that keeps you around?

I feel that when you work in an institution or a hospital setting, it’s easy to start seeing your patients as their disease or as their case. When we see people in their own homes, we get to know the whole person, understand what they care about and who cares for them. We understand how health issues can make life difficult but we also get to know the things that bring them joy and meaning and I always look to bring those things into the conversation. I find it a really beautiful, well-rounded way of supporting people who need a bit of help to continue on at home as they age.


A lot of families are fractured or separated by distance so it may be that the nurse and community workers are the only people they speak to all week. I’m very aware of their potential for isolation. That’s what I love about Community – you walk through that door and the person may as well be your uncle, your Mum – I’ll be one of those people one day soon! We’re all in this together, and it’s nice to think that the very small things we do might change the course of their day or the way they feel for the better. As an animal lover, I also have to admit that I very much enjoy meeting all the gorgeous dogs out there who are helping to keep our clients company.


What does a typical day look like for you?

No two visits will ever look the same, because everyone’s needs are so unique. For some clients, we might have a regular task to do, such as changing a catheter, and other times we may have to dress a wound that is taking months to heal. When dealing with older people, you find that there’s a rarely a quick fix to any health issue and a lot of time and goes in to getting them to a point where they can self-manage better. Of course, it’s also often about easing them through a slow decline but there is still potential there to bring joy and meaning to their lives.

A big part of my job is carrying out Health Assessments with people who have Home Care Packages or NDIS support with Community Gateway. These assessments give us an indication of a person’s overall wellbeing and act as a baseline indicator of how well a person is self-managing their health. If they’re not self-managing and need some support with that, we’ll find out what health networks they’re linked in with and whether they are being monitored by a GP. We can get to know these people quite well over time and will often liaise with their GPs to better understand the type of care they require.


Do you think self-management should be the goal for people – to take control of their health?

Wherever people can self-manage, that’s always a good thing, however we never take a one-size-fits-all approach. Some people just aren’t able to self-manage and sometimes the people who think they can might not actually be up to it. A lot of our clients are dealing with various stages of dementia, so we have to tread carefully around those issues as well.

Our job requires a lot of attention to detail and checking in with various other allied health professionals. We keep note of when specialist reviews are due and make sure they are able to get to them. It might be necessary to follow up to ensure the person has understood medical advice and the reasons for it, and also make sure next of kin and carers are aware of changing circumstances (for example, if the doctor has recommended that they limit fluid intake and we need the family or carers to help monitor that) .


What qualities do you think you need to work in Aged Care?

I think you have to listen far more than you dish out advice and also having empathy is a must – if you can see someone’s situation as being close to yours or someone you know, it goes a long way to understanding what that person might need or might be feeling. And I don’t think you can do this job without being friendly. People trust us to be in their homes and you have to respect that. I love it when they insist on having a cuppa and a chat – it can’t be all business, otherwise people wouldn’t develop a good rapport with us or the organisation.


What do you think we could be doing better as a country and an organisation to better care for our older Australians?

It’s frustrating to see people sent home from hospital without any consideration for what is actually happening at home. Homes are not clinical settings and often people don’t have resources at their fingertips to continue the same treatment or care plan as they would have in hospital. I think if that was more of a consideration for hospitals and institutions, patients would benefit from better after care.


What do you love most about your job?

Oh, I’m very happy at Community Gateway. I get along well with Jo, the Director of Health Services. We’re both focussed on getting the job done, but being able to have a bit of a light-hearted conversation and a laugh makes us more efficient and I love feeling that we are achieving some good stuff out there in the world.