Jill Dexter: A love note to the power of nursing | HerCanberra

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Jill Dexter: A love note to the power of nursing

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What is that saying? Not all heroes wear capes.

We can probably all agree the word ‘hero’ is synonymous with the title ‘nurse’. We meet them in some of our most vulnerable moments, and without anything in return, they quickly becoming a powerful ally.

For nurse and mother of four Jill Dexter, her work has always been a calling rather than an obligation. A calling that has danced alongside an ever-changing industry, from the evolution of technology and updated training.

For more than 50 years, Jill has seen it all—spreading her magical healing touch around Canberra since the ’70s, with no intention of slowing down.

Jill Dexter has devoted more than 50 years of her life to the care of others.

Her current job at the BaptistCare Carey Gardens Aged Care Home in Canberra sees Jill impressively managing more than 60 staff at the 65-bed facility.

Jill will be proud to end her career in the aged care sector, having also done acute care over the course of her nursing. She says it is the most rewarding specialty in nursing.

“To looking after people’s mothers and fathers when they are sick, or vulnerable, and to connect with their families and then have the privilege of caring for them to the end of their lives, it is the most rewarding thing you could imagine.”

For many nurses, their job description involves the delicate and, at times, confronting process of preparing families and individuals to navigate their final stages of life. For Jill, it’s essential these final moments are done so in a manner of compassion and dignity.

“I believe a good death is achievable and very important for everyone. It is honestly a privilege to be part of a family’s journey to a loved one’s end of life and for us it is comforting to know that our residents are able to receive palliative care in their residential home, supported by the staff and family who love them. That is how the vast majority of our residents want to go—here at Carey Gardens rather than a clinical hospital setting.”

But behind these moments of dedication and sheer human spirit, a frustrating reality exists for many nurses working within the aged care industry in particular. Despite their long hours, multiplicity of duties, years of training and qualifications, their pay cheque remains woefully inadequate, something Jill would love to see change.

“Honestly, I don’t know what to say about pay rates. The Aged Care Sector has had more than 20 independent reports over two decades and a Royal Commission but we have not resolved the key issues of resourcing and wages. If we want more staff in Aged Care we need to increase wages. Our industry is just losing so many young and committed people and we just can’t keep going on providing such high levels of care and commitment with inadequate staffing levels and poor remuneration.”

She would strongly encourage the next Government to make Aged Care nursing a priority. But she doesn’t hold out much hope.

“In 51 years, I have not seen any real commitment to change the status of the profession, and yet nurses continue to give day in and day out.”

Jill also noted the pandemic had placed even further pressure on an already stressed system. She and her staff had never worked harder than the past two years.

It’s clear that we still have a long way to go before these unsung heroes get the recognition they deserve. But International Nurses’ Day is a good place to start.

Jill has organised a bunch of flowers for every single one of her nurses and will throw on a morning tea in their honour. As for the rest of us, let us all take a collective moment of silence for these gutsy humans we simply could not live without. And make nurses a bigger political priority.

Main Image: Shutterstock.

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