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2022 Sarah Cope Award and lecture: UC student transforming care of the elderly

15 July 2022: The University of Canberra and the region’s nursing community will again honour their colleague and friend, the late Dr Sarah Cope, at the annual COPE Memorial Lecture today.

The COPE (Caring for Older People Excellence) Award is given in acknowledgement of service to elderly individuals in aged care. For those who go above and beyond to ensure the very best quality of care, and in turn, quality of life of our valued elderly Australians.

Dr Cope was an Assistant Professor in Nursing with the University’s Faculty of Health, and is remembered as a gifted clinician and teacher, and a passionate advocate and leader in aged care nursing.

As part of her legacy, the COPE Award was created and is presented each year during the Annual COPE Memorial Lecture.

This year’s award winner, Nerissa Askelin, is an Enrolled Nurse working full time at the Canberra Hospital, and is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Canberra and a Bachelor of Dementia at Tasmania University. She’s been recognised for her dedication and the impact she’s had in aged and acute care.

Ms Askelin is passionate about person-centred care and hopes to be part of the change to create a holistic model of care that guides elderly individuals through their healthcare journey – and one that sees the individual behind the illness.

“They are individuals, and they've got their whole life experience. If you sit down – even just for 15 minutes – with a resident and get to know them, you get to hear their story and you can look past the wrinkles and the grey hair,” she said.

“I had a patient’s family member tell me that I was the only person who actually saw past the dementia to the person that they were.”

Ms Askelin loves and values working face-to-face with residents, but in order to have an impact on as many people as possible, she decided to pursue further education.

“It was a lightbulb moment for me. You can make a difference to people on a one-on-one basis, but to make a bigger impact on the cohort, you need to have that education behind you,” she said.

Ms Askelin said she felt honoured to be receiving the COPE Award in recognition of her advocacy and passion for care of the elderly.

“I was over the moon to be recognised by my peers and teachers and to be acknowledged for the work that I've been trying to do towards aged care,” Ms Askelin said.

“We need to ensure care is person-centred — valuing the person for who they are and respecting their goals and wishes.”

“Particularly as they start losing their memory, which is a big part of their identity, we need to be there for them during these cognitive changes.”

The 2022 COPE Memorial Lecture will be presented by Professor Brendan McCormack, Head of The Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Sydney. Brendan's topic for the 2022 lecture is 'COPEing in a covid world: Person-centredness as the vehicle for sustainable older person nursing'.

Professor McCormack’s research focuses on person-centredness with a particular focus on the development of person-centred cultures, practices and processes. He has engaged in this work at all levels, from theory development to implementation science and through to instrument design, testing and evaluation.

The 2022 COPE Memorial Lecture will take place from 1pm to 3pm on Friday 15 July. To tune in via Zoom, visit the Eventbrite.

To read more about Dr Sarah Cope, visit Tribute to a life driven by love: Dr Sarah Cope’s legacy