Director of Practice and Quality, Linda Justin talks about the career path that led her to Uniting, and why she is so passionate about what she does.
I haven’t spent a moment of my working life outside of the health sector, even during my time as a consultant; it was within the health and ageing industry. Originally from Ireland, I started out in pediatrics. Early on in my career I realised I wanted to do make a difference at a strategic level. A young boy in my care did well in intensive care and went home to have a normal life. But sadly two weeks later he passed away due to complications that were likely a result of failings in the health system.
After this, I realised that as a society we can do more to care for people and we can make a difference. The cycle of disadvantage can be broken, and we can provide support to the people most in need. We mustn’t conform, but instead transform – a daily mantra I choose to live by.
Relocating to Australia gave me the opportunity to be part of clinical system improvement, and three years ago I joined the team at Uniting as Director of Practice and Quality. I joined with a deep sense of wanting to make a positive impact in people’s lives, daily.
An imperative part of aged care is helping older people understand that they still have a good life to live. As part of the community, they have value to add, bonds to form and joy to experience.
When you begin a career in aged care, you believe you’re giving back. In reality it’s so much more. On a daily basis, I’m touched by the stories I hear from our clients. When they share their time with me, I’m able to be part of their lives. My life has been breathtakingly enriched by this exchange.
Over the years I’ve experienced incredibly traumatic yet equally beautiful instances. I’ve been engulfed with overwhelming sadness and complete elation.
Within our dementia care, we use a method called Doll Therapy, enabling people to be reminded of their lives as a mother, father or carer, to rekindle fond memories of parenthood. I remember there was one lady who would sit with the dolls, cuddling them for hours. You could see the immense joy and relief that this time brought; she cherished it. We spoke with her family to understand her story only to realise that she had never been able to have children of her own, but she had cared deeply for her nieces and nephews. Time with the dolls brought back memories of this time of love and nurturing for her. In this moment, she was a carer again, for children she adored – some of the happiest times of her life.
It’s a privilege to hear and experience such heart-warming stories. Knowing that you’ve honored someone’s dignity at such a vulnerable time is a humbling and rewarding experience.
Working in aged care is also about changing community attitudes. One of my biggest challenges is helping society to overcome the idea that people in aged care have already lived their lives. Through my role I am determined to showcase the indisputable strength in enabling joy, facilitating hope and crafting meaning in the life of another.
Not so long ago I was sitting with a 90-year-old mother and her 70-year-old daughter, who had been separated for more than 30 years. The mother, who came to Australia as a refugee, was moving into our services. Her daughter was there to help her settle. Sitting on the lounge, the mother and daughter spoke about their lives. They spoke of fond memories and the challenges they had endured in their individual lives. It was an emotional experience watching them reconnect after years of hardship. After 30 years apart, here they were sitting on a lounge, a cup of tea in hand, beginning a fresh relationship.
Within six months, the mother had passed. I still find comfort knowing that she left with a heart rich in her daughters love. Death is difficult. It never gets easier. Knowing that you’ve given someone happiness in their time of need, however, is infinitely rewarding.
As a society, we’re able to ignite change. We can bust stereotypes to transform our world into an inclusive place. I’m enriched by the stories of our clients each and every day – if you spent a day in their shoes, you would be too.