Background: The aged care sector is increasingly dominated by a less-qualified workforce at a time of increasing prevalence of complex health concerns, such as dementia. An Australian program to develop teaching aged care facilities is being undertaken to build the sector's capacity and provide nursing students with positive experiences of engaging with vulnerable clients. This research aimed to examine care staff potential to facilitate nursing student engagement with clinically relevant knowledge in the performance of hygiene care in a residential aged care facility. Methods: This study was designed as an action research study. A cycle of reflection, planning, action, and evaluation is described to illustrate the carer mentor capacity to engage with and contribute to the learning of nursing students. Participants were second year student nurses (n = 10) on a four-week placement in a Tasmanian aged care facility in 2013 and their nurse/carer mentors (n = 17). Mentors participated in six action research meetings, and nursing students engaged in a parallel series of four feedback meetings during the placement. Results: At the beginning of the placement, nursing students exhibited a disregard for the clinical value of care provision. Students considered provision of hygiene care, in particular, the preserve of care workers and an inappropriate training exercise in the context of an undergraduate nursing qualification. To assist students to make links between core nursing competencies and hygiene care as well as to engender respect for their role within the aged care facility, carer mentors developed the Carer Assessment and Reporting Guide. Once implemented during the final weeks of the placement, the Guide improved student perceptions of resident hygiene care (reframed as assessment) and the role of facility care workers, as well as reinforcing carer self-esteem. Conclusion: Hygiene care is replete with nursing competencies that are valuable for undergraduate learners, including assessments of skin integrity, mobility, cognitive function, bowels and urine, and basic hygiene. Nurse education programs should strive to address student misconceptions about care work in facilities to account for population level increases in care needs.
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