A job that never gets old: loving life as a ward manager at the Trust

Linda Batten manages Witherow ward at St Mary’s Hospital – a ward dedicated to the care of older patients, where patience, flexibility and good conversation are all part of a day’s work.

I began my career as an intensive care nurse and never considered I’d be working solely with older patients. Now I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have a growing, ageing population for whom life can be challenging. So being able to make an older patient’s experience in hospital that little bit better is hugely rewarding. It doesn’t have to be anything big – sometimes it’s just helping someone to eat comfortably or move around independently. Our patients are always so appreciative and I love how interesting they are. It’s easy to forget they had full and eventful lives before becoming unwell. So many of our patients have such great stories to share and I enjoy a good conversation! 

It isn’t always easy managing an older adults’ ward and there are certain skills that definitely help. You need a lot of patience. If someone has dementia or delirium, communication can be quite difficult, so you need to be able to take the time to listen and understand what they are trying to say. Unfamiliar surroundings like the ward and a change in their normal daily routines can agitate patients. In situations like this it is always important to build a good relationship with family members and work with them to understand how to best support your patient.

It helps to be flexible. There will always be tasks you need to do during a shift, but patients come first so you have to be able to reprioritise depending on their needs. Good communications skills are important so you can explain to your patients in a clear way what you are doing for them, both now and in the future. This can mean repeating yourself a lot.

Working on an older adults ward is a real team effort. As well as working with colleagues in the hospital you also have to work with external organisations like social services, and of course, the patient’s family. Our job is to get our patients well enough to be discharged and help to get them home or into more appropriate care as quickly and as smoothly as we can. We try to get patients out of bed as soon as they are able, which improves how they function physically. Getting them out of their hospital gowns and into their own clothes and foot wear is also important as it can decrease their confusion and reduce the risk of falls.

We have some really interesting initiatives going on at St Mary’s Hospital. Working with the dementia team, we have secured the funding for an activities room for patients to do arts and crafts. We also want to use the space to lay on film nights, which will make their stay more enjoyable.

From a career perspective, we have so many development opportunities available to us, including courses about frailty, dementia and recognising deteriorating patients. We have a choice of short, in-house courses and some external university courses which focus on the skills we need to care effectively for our patients. Quality improvement is part of the fabric of working at our Trust – we’re all encouraged to make changes in the area we work in.

The best thing about my job is being able to see a patient return home and returning to their daily activities. We all work so well as a team here, and even with our most challenging patients we get really good results. We are all really passionate about caring for older patients. Getting positive feedback from a family about how much you have helped makes my day

If you would like to find out more about working with older adults, please contact Linda: linda.batten1@nhs.net.

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If you are a healthcare professional who works with older adults, you are invited to a one-day training session focussed on urgent and emergency care. The Geriatric Elderly Medicine Bootcamp will take place on 10 October at the St Paul’s Centre in Hammersmith.