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Survival-Kit Vocational Training
"With respect, I could not do that!"

Portrait of Marcel in scrubs against a backdrop with bookshelves and fake trees
Marcel trains to be geriatric nurse, here he is wearing his scrubs | Photo (detail): © prviat

Marcel, 28, is training to be a geriatric nurse in Mönchengladbach. In the Survival-Kit, he tells us that his job is much more than taking on and taking off incontinental pads, and why him starting work at 5:45 am isn’t that bad.

By Svenja Hoffmann

 What is the biggest cliché about your training – and how much of it is true?

As a young trainee, I’m confronted with this very often. When I meet new people, I often get to hear, “Oh, you are in geriatric care? Respect, I could never do that!” The ulterior motive for that question is usually that people assume I only put on and take off incontinence pads for people, our clients. Of course, we support them with personal hygiene or when they need to use the bathroom, if they can no longer do this on their own. However, there is much more to the job of geriatric nurses and caregivers; we provide therapeutic and emotional support, we are conversation partners and orientation aids. The trick in our job is to pick people up where they mentally are.

What is your normal daily routine like?

My daily routine is very different, depending on whether I am in the practical or theoretical part of the training. In the theoretical part, school starts at 8 a.m. and continues until 3:30 p.m. In class, we learn various modules concerning disease-related aspects of the body and mind, but also anatomy and pathology. Burnout is also a big factor in our profession since we are at high risk of getting it, so that’s another aspect, we learn about. I get a headache after two hours and I'm glad for every break, we get.

In the outpatient practice, my day starts at 5:45 a.m. In primary care, one caregiver always visits the same clients, which is why we usually have fixed tours every day. We have clients with whom we spend only 10 minutes – we give them their medication and have a short chat. Others have a whole program – basic care, treatment care and support, depending on the extent and level of care. The level of care determines which services the clients receive and which costs are covered by the health insurance company.

Which day will you never forget?

I once had a client whom we didn't have to support much. She was communicative and funny, asked questions, and it was always nice visiting her. Because of an external assignment and school units, I didn't see her for four months and when I came back, it made me feel very low. She was bedridden, couldn't open her eyes properly, and was plagued by pain. The joking with us kept her going, but that, too, steadily subsided. Ultimately, we worked with her palliatively.

What aspect of your training could you not have done without?

I don't want to do without the smile of my clients. Especially in the morning, when I still feel tired at times, I’m very happy to be greeted so warmly by so many clients. In general, I wouldn’t want to miss the social interactions with them, which is also a very important aspect of our work with relationships.

What would you do differently if you could start your training all over again?

I would buy more notepads. In my shifts, I always have a notepad with me so that I don't forget the information, we learn about, or important tasks. For example, we sometimes have to call the respective doctor so that they write a new prescription for a client. That means that we also have to pick it up and buy the medication with it, those errands in our tours need to be planned.

What is the biggest challenge?

I think it's a shame that our job is very dependent on finances. We have to think about how much time and effort we spend on our services and use this to calculate the minutes available for the respective client. As a result, we always have to bring a certain pace with us on our tours, which is difficult sometimes. Only certain services are paid for when it comes to care for the elderly. For example, the insurance covers the cost of putting on compression stockings – but not socks and shoes in general. I find it particularly difficult when we have to say good-bye to clients even though we notice that they still need to talk to us.

For us caregivers, it’s extremely important that we take care of our physical and mental health.

What was often a livesaver for you?

The exchange with colleagues. At the beginning of my training, for example, there was a situation that I found stressful and that I took advice from an older colleague about. We talked about how we can deal with these situations in nursing. Because for us caregivers, it’s extremely important that we take care of our physical and mental health in order to avoid burnout or coolout, like for example moral exhaustion.

What do you do to switch off and enjoy some “me” time?

After my practical shift, I process a lot of new impressions, so once I get home I go to sleep first. I also go running three or four times a week to switch off. At the weekend, I meet up with friends, we go out or watch films. I can't really plan bigger events because sometimes we have to substitute for colleagues on a free weekend. That's why I usually do quieter things in my free time that don't throw me off track.

What question do you always hear at family gatherings or when you meet friends?

I’m often asked if I would like to continue my education. I would actually like to go to intensive care, which treats people with acute symptoms, or study nursing later on. In addition, I often hear why I won’t join in on the fun at the weekend and that I’m only working, studying or sleeping.

What have you taken with you on your life journey from your vocational training?

My knowledge of human nature has definitely improved. Now, I understand a lot better why people are the way they are. In the beginning, I had problems finding out what I would like to do for a living and I’m glad that I chose this path.


Where in Germany can one study well? How can you live well as a student? And how do you survive the first student council party and the questions at family gatherings?

Students from different disciplines talk about their experiences at universities in Germany, their everyday life – and what sometimes drives them to despair.