Sarah Kennedy is a registered nurse at Metlifecare’s Powley retirement village in Blockhouse Bay, Auckland. A born and bred New Zealander, she grew up in Wellington and Hamilton until moving to Auckland at the age of 12.
Prior to studying nursing, Kennedy completed a Bachelor of Ministry at Laidlaw College, formerly known as the Bible College of New Zealand. She found her way into the aged care sector after spending an afternoon assisting an elderly couple move into Powley.
“I stopped at reception to ask for an application form without thinking too much about it,” Kennedy told AgedPlus magazine. “When I filled out the application form I thought I was applying to work in the serviced apartments, but I accidently wrote down 'caregiver' and got an interview to work in the hospital.”
Commencing her employment as a caregiver in 2009, Kennedy initially found the demands of her new workplace understandably challenging, but she soon rose to the occasion, growing in confidence and learning how to care for the residents. She went on to study nursing in 2011, though not before experiencing a flood of self-doubt.
“I nearly withdrew my application to study nursing as I didn't think I could do it,” said Kennedy. “My mum came to the rescue and convinced me to 'just give it a go'.” Following the completion of her nursing studies, Kennedy completed a new graduate year in mental health nursing in acute settings, before finding her way back to Powley as a registered nurse.
A natural go-getter, Kennedy’s ‘can-do’ attitude is a perfect fit for her line of work, which can see her tackling a diverse range of issues each day. With older adults tending to become unwell very quickly, and often not showing the same signs and symptoms a younger person would, Kennedy often has to problem solve and work hard to figure out what is bothering a patient who may be unable to communicate.
Of course, such challenges are not without their rewards, and Kennedy has found a career in the aged care sector to offer some deeply gratifying experiences. “On one shift, a resident called me to her room and said she had something to tell me,” she explained.
“She said that I had helped her make peace with her life and that she was ready to die. She died three days later. I was completely shocked as she was a quiet lady and I hadn’t felt that I had done anything special, but something had touched her in a unique way.”
Such profound encounters, whilst not exactly routine, offer nurses and others on the front line of aged care a chance to commune with those in the end stages of life. Kennedy’s involvement with the Poi Project, a scheme focusing on improving the quality of life of palliative care residents, no doubt stems directly from such experiences.
In 2020 Kennedy is planning to pursue a postgraduate diploma in advanced nursing, specialising in gerontology. She is particularly interested in exploring the issue of mental health in older adults, no doubt in part as a result of her experiences on the front line of palliative care. Outside of work, she is currently learning the Ethiopian language of Amharic, after befriending two Ethiopian caregivers working at Powley who introduced her to their church and community.
Kennedy’s chance encounter at Powley all those years ago led to what has been a fruitful and successful career, and it’s clear she’s found her calling. She is a passionate advocate for aged care and keen to encourage others to pursue a career in the industry.
“We live in a society with an aging population, something which requires a workforce of nurses who are passionate and dedicated to caring for the elderly,” she said. “Nursing in an aged care setting provides unique and interesting challenges and should be seen as just as valuable as nursing in other settings such as surgical or medical.”