Caring for the elderly may seem to be a tedious, unpleasant business. But more and more young people are joining the service.
Three workers at the Oasis Nursing Home tell EJ Insight how serving people in the sunset of their lives could bring sunshine into their own careers.
Located in Tsz Wan Shan, Oasis is one of the contract homes under the Social Welfare Department that participated in a pilot scheme aimed at attracting young blood into the elderly care industry.
Chow Ho-tin, 20, used to be a restaurant waiter until he had the opportunity to join Oasis. “I actually like to be with old people,” Chow said. “I grew up with my grandma, that’s why I am so used to the nagging. In fact, I miss it when I am not nagged. This is the reason I am here.”
Oasis superintendent Grace Cheang said young male health workers have an advantage in the industry.
“Maybe it’s because of the traditional Chinese parents’ preference for boys, or maybe it is because they are stronger that some of the seniors prefer them to girls,” Cheang said. “In some cases, as when the patients are suffering from dementia, they would think the male health workers are their grandsons. They would even grasp their hands and kissed them.”
Hong Kong is an ageing soceity. If no young people are willing to enter the senior care industry, it won’t be surprising to see a 60-year-old taking care of a 65-year-old in the next five to 10 years. That’s the reason why elderly homes are eagerly seeking ways to attract young people.
And caring for old people can be a rewarding career. In the first place, the healthcare industry provides a clear career path. After finishing the personal care worker training course, a caretaker like Chow can be promoted to health worker.
Chow’s seniors, So Yi-li and Ng Siu-ha, have just been promoted to health workers this year. So is now aiming to become a nurse.
“Further study needs money. It’s good that I can practice my knowledge while saving money when I am working here,” So said.
Caring for the elderly is definitely not an easy job. It involves doing daily chores that others may find a bit off-putting such as changing diapers. But even for these duties, professional knowledge is required.
“It’s a lot more than just changing diapers. You have to observe the color and shape of the feces to see if a patient is in good health. We wear protective gear such as a mask and gloves when we perform our duties, so that’s fine,” So said.
Ng used to work in the tourism industry before she quit her job last year and went on a working holiday in Australia.
During the break, she realized that she had to do something she really liked. That’s why she took a course to become a personal care worker and was hired by Oasis this July.
At first, Ng’s family opposed her decision as they thought she was just wasting her time. Even her friends felt that it was weird for a young girl to work in an elderly home.
However, Ng insisted on her chosen career path as she saw bright prospects in the industry. She is now attending a course in physiotherapy. “Working as a health worker means that I have to upgrade myself all the time. There is so much to learn. My next goal? I hope some nursing school would allow me to enrol.”
Working in the elderly home is full of challenges. First, it is not easy to earn the trust of seniors and their family members.
“These young workers, they are all just kids in the eyes of the seniors. The seniors would think that these young people won’t be serious about their job. But time will tell,” said Cheang, the superintendent.
So offers a few secrets on how to win the trust of old people.
“Learn more dialects. Sometimes, they would be in a bad mood and refuse to eat. You can cheer them up by speaking their dialect. It works most of the time.”
Most patients have their own idiosyncracies. A patient she is take care of, for example, is very particular about her things.
“Every morning, she has to have a glass of hot water and her pillow put at a specific place. She is very systematic; she wants her clothes to be folded nicely. And if you do all these things correctly, she will praise you in the end and that is when I get my sense of achievement.”
Although the future can be bright, climbing up the career ladder means health workers need to keep upgrading themselves. For example, it’s tough to secure a place at nursing schools because of the stiff competition.
“I have heard that a nursing school receives over tens of thousands of applications for its 200 seats,” said Ho Lai-chun, the director of nursing at Oasis.
When asked what’s the hardest aspect of working in an elderly home, Ng said it breaks her heart to learn of the death of any of her patients.
“But this is something that cannot be avoided, so I have to control my emotions. Maybe they are happier and more peaceful now where they live.”
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